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Environmental and Sustainability Education

Welcome to Down & Dirty Updates!

The place for gritty updates in the OISE Learning Garden

Red bark, No bite

February 15, 2021

These days, everyday feels like gray skies and cold temperatures. All seems still and quiet in our garden this time of year. Take a closer look, and a Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) adds a vibrant pop color to the garden this frigid February. Dressed in bright red bark and white berries for most of the year, this native plant is most known for its decorative properties.

This rapid-growing and medium-sized shrub is not simply ornamental, however. It serves many traditional uses as a powerful plant medicine and tool for many Anishinaabe First Nations. It can soothe skin irritations caused by poison ivy, and treat sore eyes, colds, and fevers. Young shoots and twigs are flexible and can be made into baskets and arrows. A delicious treat, the shrubs berries are also enjoyed by over 20 species of bird! In our garden, this shrub supports the needs of local wildlife by attracting birds and providing them with shelter.

Given the amount of snowy days this month, our Red Osier Dogwood holds a lot of opportunity to shine its striking crimson. Come check out our roster of native plant species on your next wintry stroll down Bloor Street!

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Snowbed Security

December 21, 2020

Winter is finally here! We have been lucky to see snow a few times over the past few months. We at the OISE Community Learning Garden are welcoming its return to the Garden this January. As the weather changes and the plants in your garden succumb to frigid temperatures, it is easy to assume that the snow has a negative influence on the health and growth of your garden. Counterintuitively, many plants benefit from snowfall, and it is encouraged that you keep a big blanket over your garden beds throughout the winter.

One major benefit of heavy snow coverage is that snow functions as an excellent insulator for the soil. Without snow, the cold temperature can freeze your soil, which can lead to the damage of your plant, tree, and shrub root systems. The insulation of snow also helps to protect perennials, bulbs, and strawberry plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. With all the conserved moisture in our soil conserved by snow beds, our Everbearing Strawberry plants will be getting a running head start this spring!

You can make peace with winter knowing the positive role that snow beds play in keeping your garden happy and healthy.

Everbearing Strawberry leaves under Snow

Everbearing Strawberry leaves under Snow

Indigenous Education in the Garden

November 20, 2020

It’s Indigenous Education Month at TDSB! We at the OISE Community Learning Garden were fortunate to hear from TOES educator Mike Izzo in his talk on Indigenous Land-Based Teaching & Learning. In this post, we share lesson ideas by Mike Izzo that educators can use to begin incorporating Land-based learning principles in their teaching practice.

Although many educators in TDSB teach in urban areas, Izzo affirms that there are many rich opportunities to learn about, in, and from the Land in your schoolyard. Did you know that Cedar trees found in your school yard or local park are packed with vitamin C and can be made into a hot and cozy tea?! Taking your students on a tree-spotting excursion to collect some fragrant green clippings can teach about physical health and spiritual wellness offered by Indigenous medicines. This hands-on learning experience can also be extended to learn about other trees including Maple or Birch.

When taking your students out on the Land, Izzo states the importance for learning the names of Treaties and Traditional territories of the Land we occupy and live on. Learning First Nations people’s names, languages, and territories is the first step to respectfully acknowledging the Land and avoids pan-Indigenous thinking which can contribute to the erasure of unique and different cultural practices of First Nations communities across Turtle Island.

If you’re inspired to go outside and learn from the Land, we invite you to plan your next excursion at the OISE Learning Garden.  See if you can spot the Cedar tree for yourself - it’s found in our Indigenous Ed Garden.

Cedar Clippings from the Indigenous Education Garden

Cedar Clippings from the Indigenous Education Garden

**Check out these links if you want to make Cedar tea or Maple water with your own class!

Cedar tea -

Maple and cedar water -

Trick or Treat!

October 31, 2020

This Halloween whether you're collecting candy or seeds, treat yourself and watch our new seed saving tutorial video!

Seed Saving Tutorial

October 8, 2020

If you are a beginner to seed saving, collecting flower bulbs is a great place to start! Most flowers need no special treatment to encourage seeds to sprout. And so, self-sowing plants like the Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) are perfect to practice on.

First, you want to get a plastic brown paper bag to collect your seeds heads in. Identify a cone head that is brown with ripeness, and snip it with garden shears where the stem meets the head of the flower. While you may be eager to sweep your garden clean, it is important to only take about half of your garden's seed bounty. Leaving seeds in your garden will attract hungry native bird species who also eat pests and control bug infestations.

Once you have collected your seeds, it is important to ensure that they are completely dry. Wet seeds will become moldy and cannot be planted the following spring. Lay out a paper towel or piece of newspaper on a flat surface and leave the seeds to bask in the afternoon sun. Once they are dry, they are ready to be packaged and put to "sleep" for winter.

A final but crucial step is being mindful of the cold stratification process. Many seeds have an embryonic dormancy phase. By storing seeds in cold environments like a freezer or in a safe place outside over winter, you stimulate natural conditions that seeds must experience before germination can occur.

What are you waiting for? Get into your garden and start saving!

Drying ConeFlower Heads

Drying Purple Coneflower Seed Heads

The Importance of Seed Saving

September 15, 2020

If you have walked past the OISE Community Learning Garden within the past few weeks, you may have noticed a change in appearance to the plant life. Now that summer has ended and the chilly fall weather is upon us, many of our flower species have begun to fade, marking the start for the seed saving process! A wise gardener knows that seed saving is an important and rewarding action in maintaining the overall health and budget of your garden.

Seed saving is greatly beneficial for a garden's biodiversity. By saving different plant varieties in our gardens, we protect the plant's genetic pool to fight against diseases, pests, and changing climate conditions. Not only can saving seeds protect the plant, it also protects your wallet. One plant can generate thousands of seeds for several years. Trading them creates alternative economies that benefit both you and your gardening friends directly!

Follow us for future posts when we show you how we saved seeds from the Purple ConeFlower from our Environmental & Sustainability Education Garden.

Wild Bergamot Seed Head

Wild Bergamot Seed Head

ESE Garden in Full Bloom

August 12, 2020

The Learning Garden is in full bloom this week! Check out this video introduction to the Showy Tick Trefoil plant in the ESE Garden - it has an approach to sharing its beauty that might just 'catch on'!

Sage in the Sunshine

August 5, 2020

The front border of the Indigenous Education garden is bountiful at this time of year with the silvery-white foliage of the Mush-ko-day-wushk (sage) plant. Sage is traditionally used in Indigenous smudging ceremonies and is one of the four sacred medicines. Its spiritual significant and ability to act as a pollinator in the garden help define its characteristics as a plant that promotes interconnectivity and wellbeing.

You may notice this evergreen perennial looks frosty white, as this varietal is White Sage, which is slightly different from the sage plant you might use as a herb in recipes. When crushed gently between the fingers, the lovely aroma of white sage is somewhat more subtle than its green relatives. When left to flower its flowers are attractive to bees and insects passing by, and we are grateful to this plant for drawing these pollinators into our garden!

White Sage

White Sage in the Indigenous Education Garden

Fun Facts about Chokecherries

August 1, 2020

Check out this video blog entry focused on the Chokecherry plant in our Holistic Garden that highlights some fun facts about this amazing native plant.

Cheery Chokeberries 

July 29, 2020

Ripe, juicy and tender chokeberry fruit adorns deep green leaves in our Holistic Education garden. The chokeberry’s name is rather misleading! Said to have therapeutic qualities for promoting heart health, good circulation, and containing antioxidants that may stave off illness, the black chokeberry plant is a native shrub to Ontario and produces lovely edible berries in the summertime related to peaches, plums and cherries.

What’s more, the plant produces bright white flowers in the spring, and its leaves turn a sharp crimson red in the autumn months. An all-season beauty, we are grateful to see our chokeberries thriving once again in our garden this year.


Chokeberries in the Holistic Education Garden

Getting Squirrelly in the Garden!

July 22, 2020

If there’s one furry friend we can count on to pop up in our city gardens no matter what we do, what time of day, or what plants are in’s squirrels. 

Big, small, black, grey, or even the mischievous red, Toronto squirrels are different from some squirrels in that they just don’t seem to have any fear when it comes to nearby humans or dogs. These feisty little critters love to hoover up dropped seeds knocked from bird feeders blowing in the wind, and are well known to take a bite (or two!) out of various prized plants, flowers, vegetables and herbs. If we were to take a guess, we’re pretty sure we’re not the only ones.

Isaac Crosby, lead of urban agriculture programming at Evergreen Brick Works with Ojibwa/Black Canadian heritage, had some advice for us in our latest webinar, Touring the Garden. He first debunked the “home remedy” to repel pesky critters from your gardens with cayenne pepper, and reminded us that this can hurt squirrels' eyes and mouth. Instead, his advice to stop squirrels from biting your plants is to try putting out a bowl of water for the squirrels to drink from instead! (Watch the full video here.) They may be thirsty, and just looking for a little sip of something cool flowing through your garden. Thanks for the tip!

Sleeping Squirrel

Sleeping Red Squirrel

What to do about aphids on Milkweeds

July 19, 2020

The next video blog entry tracks the aphids on our milkweed plants in the Learning Garden, and how we're dealing with them in a way that doesn't hurt the plants.

The Power of Purple

July 15, 2020

Nothing marks summertime as proudly as the pale purple coneflowers standing tall in our OISE Learning Garden. Some might know them as echinacea, or perhaps, the “purple spiky ones”, but to us they serve as a beautiful and fragrant reminder that the summer sun is upon us!

If inspecting these beauties close up, you may notice that our coneflowers’s delicate petals are much thinner and sparser than others in other gardens. In fact, modern hybrids of this species have experimented with many lush, heavily-petaled and coloured varieties including red-orange, peach, and yellow. In our garden, we are pleased to intentionally include the native coneflower, whose petals are slightly longer and narrower than those of other non-native varieties. As we know from last week’s webinar with Lorraine Johnson, native plants help provide food and habitat for species’ biodiversity, attracting both butterflies and beneficial insects.

Once these flowers fade and turn brown in the fall, you can use scissors to cut the flower head, and dry the seeds out for harvesting. Your only competition for these precious little seeds are the yellow goldfinch birds who love them as snacks!

Pale Purple Coneflowers

Pale Purple Coneflowers in the OISE Learning Garden

Bringing the Bees into the Garden with Bee Balm

July 12, 2020

The bee balm is blooming in the OISE Learning Garden this week - absolutely bee-autiful!  Get an introduction to it in this week's video blog entry.

"School Grounds of Resilience"- with Lorraine Johnson

July 9, 2020

What are native plants, and why do they belong in the school garden? In our latest webinar inspired by the OISE Learning Garden, author Lorraine Johnson shared her expertise on educational gardening with native plants and how to care for these plants on school grounds.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Native Plant: “a species that has evolved in association with all the features of a place and developed specific and important functional relationships and interactions that contribute to the specificity and identity of that place” - Lorraine Johnson

  • Landscapes of monoculture (ie. lawn) mean less food and habitat in native plants for many specialist insects like bees 

  • Almost all weeds are non-native 

  • Gardening for insects helps biodiversity of other animals too (birds need to eat)!

  • Plan tough, native plant species! Think native trees or shrubs like bur oak, willows, ash, birch, pawpaw, honeysuckle & dogwood that reduce lawn maintenance costs

  • Tip: involve parents, kids and community members to help with summer watering of native plant gardens

  • Recommended flowers: Cup plant, Pussytoes, prairie smoke, blue-eyed grass, violets, wild ginger, wild blue phlox, wild geranium,black-eyed susan, hyssop, ironweed, blazing star, joe pyeweed, butterfly milkwood, virginia mountain mint, goldenrod, astor… The list goes on!

  • Signage: tell people what you’re doing!

Check out Lorraine Johnson’s collection of books here!

Cone Flower

Native Variety of Purple Coneflower in OISE Learning Garden

Milkweeds are flowering in the Garden

July 3, 2020

Happy to share an introduction to the Common Milkweed in the OISE Learning Garden in this next video blog - one of the prettiest and most important pollinators in the OISE Garden!

Welcome to the Tea Party!

July 1, 2020

Who doesn’t love a cup of beautiful, caffeine-free tea to start your morning or sip on watching the July sunset? Making your own cup of tea is both delicious and healthy, and provides you with a way to connect with the plants in your garden or your own backyard. This blog will walk you through how to brew a steaming cup of Cedar Tea, as inspired by our cedar tree in our Indigenous Education Garden.

The process is quite simple: harvest around 2 cups of fresh new-growth cedar tips. Boil the cedar in 4 cups of water, for around 10 minutes or until the brew takes on a lovely golden hue. That’s it! Strain and enjoy. 

Interesting facts:

  • Cedar has been used by Indigenous communities as a sacred plant and medicine in ceremony and spiritual practice.

  • It is one of the Four Sacred Medicines in Indigenous communities; alongside sage, sweetgrass and tobacco 

  • Its high levels of Vitamin C have been historically used to prevent scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency)

The steamy aroma of your tea will recall early memories of walking through cedar forests or even trimming the hedge in your own backyard. 

Cedar in the OISE Indigenous Education Garden

Lavender Hyssop Bounces Back

June 24, 2020

This video entry focuses on another pollinator plant in our garden, the Lavender Hyssop, which is found in the Equity & Inclusive Ed Garden - track its growth over the summer as it bounces back from winter damage.

Milkweed in Bloom

June 24, 2020

Right this way, Monarchs! Your royal milkweed feast awaits you.

With the arrival of warm rains and the longest day of the year, our Milkweed plants have bloomed to their full, rosy glory and beckon to hungry Monarch butterflies to come by for a taste of nectar. Some of you may know that Monarch butterflies are dependent on Milkweed for food as young caterpillars. This “weed” is often sprayed with pesticides and has been removed from properties all over Toronto that may not know how important these plants are.

Did you know…

Milkweed pods produce fluffy seeds designed to float in the wind? They have even been used as soft stuffing for lifejackets and pillows!

When Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed, they collect a toxin from the plant that helps protect them from hungry predators?

Milkweed’s pink and purple blooms can be seen from June to August? Butterflies, bees and moths are attracted to these flowers and help pollinate this plant. 

If you live close by, drop by for a walk along the OISE Learning Garden to see our happy little milkweeds at their prime!

Milkweed Plants in Bloom

Milkweed Plant in Bloom

Mindfulness in the Garden (Part 2)

June 18, 2020

As the plants in the Learning Garden continue to thrive in the June heat, perhaps you need a reminder to check in with yourself. We’ve seen some challenging weeks in Toronto. How are you feeling? What steps, if any, are you taking towards your self-care? How might you continue building your resilience and fostering mindful practice in this time of social distancing?

Following up on our last post, we’d like to share more on plant-based mindfulness. Plants help clean the air from toxins, allowing our deep-breathing practice to energize and heal the body. Many plants grow slowly, peacefully, and calmly, drawing our attention to their beauty and serenity “in the moment”. Plants remind us of the simplicity in life, an undercurrent that quickly can get washed over and lost in waves of stress and anxiety. It can be helpful to notice new growth on plants that thrive when nurtured with care, patience and respect. In this way, plants are much like the mind. 

Our June mission: Help us to #SpreadKindness by painting a rock and leaving it on the edge of our OISE Learning Garden. Your rock might have a message or design- enjoy the creative process! Hopefully our rock art will bring a smile to travellers passing by or stopping to take a look at the garden.

Rock Art
"Kindness is Contagious" Rock Art

Missing Plants in the ESE Garden

June 13, 2020

Where did our plants go? This video entry discusses the plants that went missing in the ESE Garden recently.

Mindfulness in the Garden (Part 1)

June 10, 2020

Breathe in…. breathe out…. 

Here at OISE, mindfulness practice is commonly integrated in classes and promoted as a valuable tool for self-care. Mindfulness can help improve emotional regulation, performance and health, and reduce discomfort and stress. In response to the COVID crisis and in recognition of the important human rights discussions and protests in the city, we offer this blog post on mindfulness to help support you during this time. We invite you to take your mindfulness practice outdoors. Inspired by our Holistic Education Garden that values balance, inclusion and connection, we turn to the garden as a source of wellness and sensory experience. 

Find an aromatic plant in your garden and try crushing a leaf between your fingers. Close your eyes and inhale. In our garden we might try the Virginia Mountain Mint, Lemon Balm, or Wild Bergamot. Smell can be a powerful stimulus to ground your mindfulness practice; your focus could also be drawn to the shape or pattern of the plant’s leaves, stem or flower. Let your thoughts fall away without judgment and draw your attention back to the garden when it strays…

Find wellness in the peace of nature.

Mint in the Holistic Education Garden

Mint in the Holistic Education Garden

A Sensory Tour of the Holistic Education Garden

June 3rd, 2020

Our next video blog entry features recent growth in the Holistic Education Garden - as well as sharing which OISE faculty member inspired it...listen in to learn more about it!

Strawberry Feels Forever

June 3rd, 2020

 We’re featuring a feisty little three-leaved plant this week and just to give you a hint- it’s not poison ivy! Welcome to the Creativity in Education Garden, where our Everfruiting Strawberries stop onlookers in their tracks with their big white blossoms. While there are two other types of these little berry plants (June-bearing & day-neutral), we love that our everbearing strawberry shares its fruit with us all summer long. Is it just me, or do edible plants seem to be kids’ absolute favourites? Whether planted in our education garden or in a school garden, strawberries plants can serve as a wonderful opportunity to nurture creativity and engage young people in a love for nature. 


Strawberries in the OISE Learning Garden this Spring      Strawberry Plant in Fruit at OISE Learning Garden

             Strawberries in the OISE Learning       Strawberry Plant in Fruit at OISE Learning Garden

                          Garden this Spring

Thinking 'Outside the Box' in the Creativity in Education Garden

May 30, 2020

Here's the next entry in our video blog, aiming to share recent growth in our Creativity in Education garden. Check out the rapid growth since the weather warmed.

Restore your Gardens with Native Plants

May 28, 2020

Last week OISE hosted a webinar to learn from writer, native plants advocate, and master gardener Lorraine Johnson. She shared her knowledge and experience regarding Unsettling the Garden, using her non-Indigenous perspective to unpack various colonial-imposed gardening expectations. It became clear that native plants are those that existed before European settlement, and that by planting these you can help to build a meaningful and restorative relationship with the land. You might already harvest seeds from your own native plants for replanting, or look for native plants from a local greenhouse or nursery, which is a great start.

One of the threats to native plant species are the increasing number of invasive plants that appear in the spring in Ontario. Watch for these -  garlic mustard is flowering now, and the toxic giant hogweed will begin to appear in June. While the roots and stalks of garlic mustard can be removed to control it, hogweed is dangerous to remove if safety precautions are not taken; best to familiarize yourself with these steps before attempting removal!

Help protect the beautiful and natural landscape by restoring your gardens with native plants! If you are looking to learn more about native plant gardening, Lorraine Johnson’s extensive collection of books is a great place to start. 

Prairie Smoke- an Ontario native, early blooming perennial

Prairie Smoke: an Ontario native, early blooming perennial found in our garden

Tracking Growth in the Indigenous Education Garden

May 22, 2020

Here's the second entry in our new video blog for the season, this week tracking the fast growth in our Indigenous Education Garden over the past few weeks. This garden is a beautiful and growing reminder of the importance of Indigenous ways of knowing in the work we do in every level of education.

Introducing your new Learning Garden Coordinator!

May 20, 2020

Hello fellow ESE friends, educators and plant enthusiasts! My name is Lauren Azzopardi and I am thrilled to be your Learning Garden Coordinator at OISE for the spring and summer months of 2020! 

This spring, the Learning Garden is a very special place buzzing with new life, and though we may not be allowed to visit OISE in person currently, my job will be to keep you up to date with the current Garden news, online events and growth that will still be taking place here! I’m so excited to share all of the changes in the Garden with you as we all work and study from home, but first, a little bit about myself…

I started my journey as a teacher candidate in the MT program in Fall 2019. I have a HUGE passion for plants, all things “nature”, and outdoor education. Most people who know me could tell you I have a tendency to come home from any errands run with a new plant tucked under my arm, be it a big and tropical indoor vine, or a colourful heirloom fruit. After being inspired by the Learning Garden this year I’ve decided to grow a big vegetable/pollinator garden in my own backyard by the Nottawasaga River, and currently have all sorts of watermelon, sunflower, tomato, cucumber, radish and carrot sprouts ready to plant outside next weekend! 

I’m honoured to help coordinate the care for OISE’s Learning Garden, and I would love to hear more about YOU and what you would like us to feature in our upcoming webinars, resources, and ongoing ESE education. Message us on Twitter @OISEese , Instagram @learnOISEese or email us at to share your thoughts! 

Learning Garden Coordinator 2020


The Growing Season Begins!

May 2, 2020

The OISE Learning Garden is already growing nicely, so we're disappointed that many of you won't be able to experience it in person this year due to the pandemic. So we're bringing the Garden to you instead! The good news is that the plants don't require physical distancing, so each week we'll share its growth, its plants and wildlife through short videos. Here's the first video of the season - check back each week for more!


Getting ready to grow: Planting at home 

April 3, 2020

It's not quite planting season yet - we definitely have a little bit of cold to endure before we dig back in to the garden - but that doesn't mean we don't have bulbs on the brain (thank you for allowing me this alliteration).

While those of us who are able to be are inside practicing physical distancing and keeping our communities as safe as possible - waiting for spring ephemerals to crop up in backyards, parks, ravines, and balconies - plant life is starting to make itself visible both outside and in. 

Personally, I've got a lot of seedlings sitting on a sunny sill - spinach, tomatoes, and beans are all starting to sprout in their indoor containers.

I was also lucky enough to stop by a seed library this winter, before we all changed the trajectories of our lives. I picked up some native plant seeds and am excited for when the germinate.

I'm trying to start some tobacco plants from seed this spring, in the hope that one day I soon I can plant them outside in thanksgiving for all the different ways in which living and non-living things come together to support each other as we journey through existence. Stay safe and healthy, and we'll see you again soon!


Tobacco growing in the Learning Garden.


Thinking outside the planter

February 5, 2020

Place-based learning in our garden is an all-seasons endeavour!

Some of our OISE students were inspired by the Learning Garden and gave it a voice using augmented reality.

QR Code QR Code

If the plants in the garden could talk, I wonder what they would say?

Taking Action - The Learning Garden at OISE's Climate Action Summit

January 31, 2020

We are so grateful to have been able to learn from the many dedicated individuals who came out to the OISE Climate Action Summit. 

The knowledge, expertise, and skills of all guests and participants was certainly inspiring, and it was great to have been able to think about how our little garden can play a role in fostering a culture of sustainablility at OISE.

Making space for native plants is so important for preserving biodiversity 

Winter Garden

January 21, 2020

winter garden

A bit of a different look for the Learning Garden, but there she is, blanketed in snow!

The native plants that call the front of the OISE building home are well-suited to surviving the cold. While they remain dormant over winter, nutrients stored in each plant's organs - bulbs, tap roots, and other underground bits - sustain them as they hunker down for the winter season.

Garden favourites like hyssop and coneflower do well overwintering, but can be insulated with mulch for an extra layer of protection after they're trimmed back and put to bed. 

Red Osier Dogwood can even add a little bit of colour to your winter garden, as its stems maintain their hue year-round. 


We can't wait to see you again in spring as the garden reawakens for the season!


A rose by any other name...

Novermber 1, 2019

Frequent vistors of this blog might remember Rosa palustris, also known as Swamp Rose. This native shrub thrives in marshy areas, and can grow up to 1 metre tall. 

Its pink flowers are enjoyed by pollinators in the spring, and its fruits are eaten by wildlife over the winter. Humans also collect rosehips when they're ripe to save seeds for propagation.

The construction at OISE means we won't get to see our rosehips ripen this winter, but we did enjoy earlier life stages this season. 

swamp rose   rosehip

Swamp rose blooms have five petals.              Rosehips have distinct stalked glands.


Thanksgiving Snack Potential

October 14, 2019

Often, the thanksgiving long weekend on University campuses means a mass exodus or a welcome respite from thinking about coursework for a couple of days.

For the Learning Garden faithful, it might also mean checking in on how a couple different species in our beds are doing to check if they’re ready for a fall harvest.

In our Equity and Inclusive Education bed, we’ve been keeping an eye on some aesthetically pleasing but eminently practical plants, Beta vulgaris and Brassica oleracea. These plants might pop up on a thanksgiving table this weekend, depending on if and how you celebrate.

Beets (Beta vulgaris)


Kale (Brassica oleracea)


Many Hands Make Light Work

October 7, 2019

We had a great day out in our local community last week learning about plants with Grade One students from Jackman ICS!

We investigated the different species that we could see all around us, and talked about why plants are useful in our communities.

The students shared so many great insights about our local ecology. They also got involved by collecting milkweed seedpods to do some seed saving with their school. Milkweed is essential for monarch butterfly lifecycles, so the Grade Ones felt it was important to get involved in creating different spaces for these bugs to snack and grow!

Saving Seeds

October 4, 2019

Seed saving is a great way to get involved and immerse yourself in your local ecology.

Not only does seed saving help to maintain the diversity of your local ecosystem, collecting and preserving the seeds of native plants to use again in following years can be an important part of protecting the pollinators in your area that rely on them.

Seed saving is also community building and place-making. Getting together with other interested folks in your community to get up close and personal with local native plants can foster a sense of togetherness and shared responsibility for the places that we call home!


Can't Rain on Our Parade!

October 2, 2019

Our fall open house was rainy, but we were grateful to be able to share the Learning Garden with all those willing to brave the weather!

We had delicious seasonal snacks on hand and took visitors on tours of the garden to showcase the fall wildflowers that were in bloom. A nice spot of colour on a very grey day.

                               bird enjoying the rainy open house

A bird enjoying the rainy open house. 

It’s always exciting for us to talk with OISE students about the ways they can bring educational gardening into their practice.

There are many more ESE events all throughout the fall – be sure to take advantage of what OISE ESE has to offer!

Learning Garden Open House

September 23, 2019

Come meet the Learning Garden! On October 2nd your friendly neighbourhood OISE ESE staff and volunteers will be hosting the fall Community Learning Garden Open House!

Come say hello, learn about native plants, enjoy some snacks - all over lunch on October 2nd.

See the poster below for more details.

 OISE Poster

Stay Gold(enrod)!

September 14, 2019

For me, one of the signals that summer is beginning to turn toward fall is when goldenrod starts to bloom. 

Canada Goldenrod, or Solidago canadensis, is common in Toronto, and can be seen lurking in compost heaps, on roadsides, at the edges of wooded areas, and many more places! Of course, we also have goldenrod in the learning garden.

Goldenrod with bee

Goldenrod is good source of food for many different pollinators. And, because the plants are insect-pollinated, they don't tend to bother folks with allergies! 

Even though the flowers will start finishing soon, there's time to catch them in all action along Bloor St, in front of the OISE building. Stop by and say hello!


Busy with Bees!

September 4, 2019

One of the many perks of hosting many native plants in the Learning Garden is that the beds appeal to pollinators. 

Many different animals - insects, birds, small mammals - can act assist with pollination, but perhaps none are as efficient as bees!

Per the City of Toronto, Toronto is home to over 360 species of bee, and some of them have buzzed by some of the showier blooms to say hello! Over the course of a season, many different kinds of bee enjoy different benefits of local native plants.

Here are two different visitors checking out the coneflower and goldenrod, some bee favourites!

  bee 1    bee 2

If you're walking along Bloor and are hoping to catch a glimpse of some bees in action, check out the sunflowers in the ESE Garden - high out of the way of passing phone cameras (I am an avid bee paparazzi and will not apologize for it), bees can enjoy sugary nectar and pollinate in relative peace!


Fruits of a Summer's Labour

August 19, 2019

As the plants in the garden mature, we can start to keep an eye out for the different seed-bearing structures across all the plant species that grow in the beds. 

The fruits in the Learning Garden take many different shapes, but here are three that are starting to ripen along Bloor Street!

Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)


Rosehips turn a lovely shade of red as they develop, and in the fall can be harvested. While they're a good source of vitamin C and zinc, rosehips don't taste very good raw and can have fairly big seeds.

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)


The heavy black berries that grow on this low-set shrub can begin to ripen in late summer, but can be harvested in the fall or winter to make preserves. They are naturally high in pectin, so they are handy for making jam!

Everfruiting Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa)


Good luck catching this last one in action! (Anecdotally) A favourite of local wildlife, I have yet to see one of our strawberries ripen...

Art in the Garden

August 10, 2019

Over the summer months the Learning Garden has had the privilege of hosting diverse groups of learners to showcase our little slice of native plant life along Bloor Street! From educators doing AQs to toddlers singing songs about butterflies, we do our utmost to make their garden experiences memorable.

For younger folks visiting the garden, one of the most exciting ways to get them involved is through exploring with art. Of course, butterflies were a major point of interest for many garden visitors, with toddlers and teenagers alike taking inspiration from their presence!

daycare drawing  daycare b

Early learners learned about butterflies.

Many young people who visited documented their garden experiences by making sketches of plants that interested them. Being able to get up close and investigate the details of each specimen helped to build lasting connections with the garden space. We were happy to have repeat visitors recall their Learning Garden experience during subsequent visits, and share their passion with others! 

drawing milkweed 1   drawing milkweed 2

Summer camp participants sketching milkweed.

The garden is still going strong, so get inspired as you pass by the front of the OISE building!


Butterfly Blogging

July 29, 2019

If you count yourself among the many local butterfly enthusiasts who have noticed an upswing in monarchs this year, you might be excited to note that the Learning Garden has played host to many this summer as they make their way through their life stages. 

What makes the Learning Garden so appealing for these little creatures? Milkweed. Half of our garden beds include Asclepias syriaca, better known as milkweed, a plant that is essential for Monarch lifecycles. 

Milkweed Monarch Caterpillar

Adult Monarchs lay their eggs at the base of leaves on milkweed plants, and when the larvae hatch they feed on the milkweed until they are ready to pupate. The larvae grow from tiny little babies into brightly coloured yellow, black and white caterpillars ready for complete metamorphosis.

Munching monarch caterpillar       Caterpillar Snack

To undergo metamorphosis the monarch caterpillars create a hard protective case around themselves called a chrysalis. If you're lucky, you can catch a glimpse of a chrysalis on hidden under leaves in the Learning Garden!

Empty Chrysalis

Dispatches from the Open House

July 9, 2019

Some plants in the Learning Garden aren’t just nice to look at. For many, taking the time to closely observe our garden beds over the course of the summer might yield delicious surprises.

The Learning Garden was designed with a variety of different sensory experiences in mind, including smell and taste. Unfortunately, I can’t offer either of those via a blog, but I can give a hint as to where to look more closely as the plants start to grow…

While we absolutely don’t advocate for eating plants you aren’t familiar with, a peek into a couple of different beds will get you immersed into what might work well in your own garden or window box, if taste is what you’re after.


Virginia Mountain Mint

Virginia Mountain Mint

Look for the fluffy white blooms in the bottom right corner of the image. Native to Ontario and attractive to a range of pollinators, this plant keeps the garden fresh all season long! I’m picturing mid-summer and a sprig of this in an icy glass of lemonade…


Lemon Balm

lemon balm

What’s in a name? Well, in this case, an apt description of the vibrant smell of this plant when it gets a little bruised. Rub a leaf between your fingers and see for yourself!


Wood Sorrel

A bit in the weeds with this one (or are we?). Sorrel leaves are tasty in salads or on their own, and will look great in the garden as they grow!

Dispatches from the Open House

July 9, 2019

It was great seeing everyone at the open house on Tuesday! Folks who came out to see what's going on in the garden enjoyed some delicious Ontario strawberries and partook in garden tours led by our staff and volunteers.

open house 1

People from all over checked out the garden! We loved seeing OISE students, educators taking AQs, and folks visiting for the summer learning about what the garden has to offer.  It was especially delightful pointing out the caterpillars going through their life cycles on our milkweed. This has consistently been a favourite for passers-by and dedicated visitors alike!

open house 2                    open house 3

Even though we won't have snacks again until September, feel free to stop by the garden any time to see what's growing! Located in the planters along Bloor St in front of the OISE building.

Notes From the Field: What our volunteers are looking forward to this summer.

June 17, 2019

New season, new garden team, new plants to check out along bloor street... Things are full steam ahead at the OISE Community Learning Garden!

Part of the fun of working in a garden is how it changes all the time! We’ve seen the prairie smoke come and go in the ESE Garden, watched the chives hold on unseasonably well in the Creativity Garden, and are waiting patiently for our chicory to sprout in the Equity and Inclusive Education Garden. Keeping an eye out for new goings on is exciting, and there are many hands on deck to shepherd the garden through the summer months.

Rachel with Calendula

Rachel, a Learning Garden volunteer and avid plant paparazzi.

Here is what some of the volunteers on the Learning Garden team have to say about what they’re looking forward to in the garden this summer:

 “As we venture deeper into the summer months, I am excited to see how each garden grows and flourishes to inspire and educate the daily passersby.” – Gabriella, MT Student

“I am glad to participate in the OISE garden as a volunteer to increase my gardening and communication skills to engage people in the benefits of urban gardening/agriculture.” – Liv, Master of Environmental Science Student

“Every day I’m going to learn three new plants.” – Rachel, MT Student

No matter what their goals are for the summer, our volunteers are ready to get you excited about all the possibilities for learning in the garden.

If you're interested in being on the garden team, find Madeleine Long on Pepper, or stop by our open house July 9th! Watch this space for more information.


Coldest Planting Day Ever!

May 22, 2019

Thank you to all those who came out to the garden planting on May 22nd! It was a damp and chilly day, but we persevered, and the garden is up and running – ready to grow and be enjoyed over the summer and into the fall.

The wild columbine that we planted in the Indigenous Education and Creativity gardens is now in bloom, so come enjoy a pop of colour and your fellow students’ hard work as you walk along Bloor St!

Wild Columbine 2019 Planting 2019 Planting 2019

If you’re looking for other opportunities to get your hands in the dirt with us, keep an eye out for the Learning Garden open house coming up in July. You can also follow along with us on this blog, or on twitter @OISEese.

Springing into a New Season

May 16, 2019

Hello! I’m Maddy and I am very pleased to be joining the Learning Garden team as the garden coordinator! I can’t wait to explore the learning garden with you this summer, and to watch the plants grow and change with the season. My gardening experience is rooted in my grandparents’ vegetable garden, where I grew up fastidiously taking care of two rows of onions every year until I was about 15. Coupled with an avid interest in garden- and place-based pedagogy, I’m hopeful that the Learning Garden will be the perfect home for me as a learner!

Although I grew up gardening with my family, my most recent horticultural hobbies have, like those of many millennials, skewed toward tending the hoard of houseplants I have shoved in my sunniest window. I am so grateful for the opportunity to take my passion for plant life outside, and to dig into all the learning garden has to offer.

Madeleine as a child

A New Start for Fall 2018

September 24, 2018

Hi everyone, my name is Meghan Buckle and I am thrilled to be taking on the role of the Learning Garden Coordinator this Fall. I am taking over this role from my friend and classmate, Emily Gray, who has done such a wonderful job of passing along all of her Pro Gardening Tips.

Over the past year, I have been a proud member of the Learning Garden team, and have enjoyed my time in the garden. I have found that there is something truly remarkable about the Learning Garden and the more time I spend on the steps of the OISE building whether it is smelling the lemon balm, or admiring the sunflowers, the more I often I want to return. As a lover of outdoor experiential learning, and ESE,  I am looking forward to working with the Learning Garden team this Fall, and keeping all of you updated on our events.


Delighting our Sense of Smell

July 30, 2018

Do you want your garden to invoke certain feelings? Essential oils from plants have been used in aromatherapy for thousands of years and gardens can be equally therapeutic. Considering a combination of scents when planning a garden can be a gentle way to stimulate the senses and create a calming environment. Some plants like our Swamp Rose and Meadowsweet found in our Equity and Inclusivity Garden release scent naturally without the need for touch. Meadowsweet has often been placed in gardens for the visually impaired due to its strong sweet aroma. Other plants release scents when their leaves or petals are crushed by hand. Large Purple Hyssop found in the Equity and Inclusivity releases an anise scent. In our Holistic Garden both the Lemon Balm and Virginia Mountain Mint have calming aromas when rubbed between your fingers. Scent can trigger a wide range of emotions closely tied to our memory which can lead to a deeper connection of place.

swamp rose bee virginia mountain mint

Learning Garden Open House

July 17, 2018

Last week we had our Learning Garden Open House! We had a great turnout with visits from students, faculty, alumni and members of the community. It was a hot sunny day that encouraged many to stop in for tasty local snacks, including Bloor Street Market’s strawberry shortcake. Everyone expressed their amazement at our ability to grow such a variety of plant species in a small space on Bloor Street.

 open house snacks Tour Hilary

During the garden tour many people commented on the abundance of pollinators found in each of our gardens. We discussed how even small gardens in urban spaces can flourish and engage students. Planting native perennials like our Bee Balm, Purple Cone Flower, Sunflowers, and Milkweed are easy to maintain and provide a haven for insects. I really enjoyed watching people take photos, smell, taste and put their hands into the garden. What plant is this and what are its benefits? This exploration led to many discussions and smiles.

OISE Learning Garden Open House TOMORROW

July 9, 2018

oper house flyer

Tomorrow is the OISE Learning Garden Open House, July 10th from 12 noon – 1:00pm!

Join us and learn about native plants, attracting pollinators and how to infuse gardening into your teaching practice. There will be free and delicious snacks provided!


Captivating our Sense of Sight

July 6, 2018

Colour, contrast, visual texture, shape, light and shadow; a garden draws the eye and inspires the mind to create. When planning a year-round sensory garden, you can add visual interest to your garden by planting plants that creep, climb or trail and flowers that bloom at different times of year. Sensory gardens may be used as a calming place and as a gentle way to stimulate the senses. Children can see all that grows in the garden, but they can also use their eyes to inspect it. They can pick flowers and pull them apart to get a closer look, watch insects and document changes in the garden.

Moving into full summer our Learning Garden is bursting with bright colour.  Our Sunflowers in our ESE Garden have just begun to bloom. Sunflowers are a fantastic addition to a sensory garden as they have a bright, bold-looking flower and can grow up to 30 cm in height in a week. Our Holistic Garden Calendulas are also in full bloom, they resemble bright orange daisies and are easy to grow from seed. These bright colours are contrasted with the deep purple blooms of the Purple Coneflowers or Echinacea. The contrasting colours of purple and yellow when grown together are especially attractive to pollinators. These-eye catching flowers and leaves also make great subjects for drawing, painting and other creations.

calendula Purple Coneflower

Encouraging Pollinators

June 22, 2018

The milkweed is in full bloom in our Indigenous Education garden and are attracting a wide range of insects. This week I was lucky to catch a Monarch caterpillar happily munching on the milkweed leaves. Monarch butterflies cannot survive without milkweed as its leaves are their sole food source. Milkweed plants are the only place for Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs.

Beyond being a home for Monarchs milkweed provides a large amount of nectar to pollinators. I was able to take a photo of a visiting bee happily drinking this sweet nectar. There are 800 species of bees’ native to Canada, with 360 species found in Toronto, but many of them are threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, and the introduction of invasive species. Planting pollinator plants is a wonderful way to support our pollinating insects; even if you don’t have the space for a whole garden, including a few plants can go a long way. Apart from milkweed, the OISE Learning Garden has many plants that encourage pollinators including columbine, giant purple hyssop, goldenrod, black-eyed susans, bluebells, virgin’s bower, prairie smoke, purple coneflowers and sunflowers.

Check out the City of Toronto’s new Pollinator Protection Strategy.

monarch caterpillar bee milkweed

Engaging our Sense of Taste

June 16, 2018

A garden is a wonderful way to engage the senses to promote learning. Sensory learning can facilitate scientific exploration and lead to improved cognitive growth.

This week we explored our sense of taste in the Learning Garden. Our creativity garden has an abundance of chives that we happily collected for a salad. After eating a very strong chive flower, I was glad to chew on some fresh Virginia Mountain mint from our holistic garden. Virginia Mountain Mint is one of the few mint species native to this region.

Garden team volunteer Jyotika had her first taste of citrusy sorrel found in the inclusivity garden. Sorrel is a terrific addition to many meals from soup or salad to lemonade.  Recently our MTSA president Sandeep made green borsch soup with our garden’s sorrel. Check out this link for the recipe.

To conclude our taste journey, we were excited to discover two perfectly ripe strawberries in the creativity garden. The strawberries bright colour and sweet taste signals the start of summer and reminds us to appreciate the bright warm days ahead!

Learning Garden Team Member Richard collecting chives     Strawberry

Planting Day

May 29, 2018

A huge thank you to all who lent a hand planting for our 6th annual growing season! We were greeted with a beautiful sunny day to start planting. Our volunteers worked hard clearing each garden of weeds and garbage. We then renewed our soil with enriching manure compost and cedar mulch to keep in the moisture. Together we delicately planted new plants including sweet smelling Lemon Balm, vibrant Red Osier Dogwood and tasty Golden Beets. Already the garden has come alive with the blooms of Columbine, Prairie Smoke, Chives, Strawberries and Bluebells. What a wonderful start to our growing season!

planting day 1  planting garden 2

A school learning garden is a fantastic way to engage students in hands on learning in array of disciplines. In preparing the garden to be planted, we teach about healthy soil and the variety of needs each plant requires. This takes careful planning, creativity and responsibility.  

planting 3  planting 4

Meet Your New Learning Garden Coordinator

May 18, 2018

My name is Emily and I am very excited to be taking on the new role of Learning Garden Coordinator! Since starting the MT program this fall, I have had the pleasure of volunteering in the Learning Garden and in the Ryerson Community School garden. I have been amazed to discover the diversity of plants and organisms that dwell in these urban spaces. Originally from Starbuck Manitoba, I grew up tending to a large vegetable garden with my family. My father was a gardener for the city of Winnipeg and often brought home plants to be nursed back to health. This instilled a love of gardening that has continued to today, where each year I find myself saving seeds and searching for a little earth to plant. As a teacher candidate passionate about ESE, I understand the value of a garden to promote wellness and connect us to the ecosystems where we live. I look forward to exploring new sights, smells and tastes in the garden with you in the months to come!

Emily Gray


Putting the Garden to Bed

December 4, 2017

This week Dr. Inwood and I went to clean up the garden and put it to bed for the winter. Now that the temperature has become cool and fall-like many of the plants have died. We trimmed the perennials and cleared out anything that had died and had fallen to the ground. If you have a school garden or a private garden, it is important to do this before it snows so that your garden can be healthy and ready for planting in the spring.

Garden Cleanup


Putting the garden to bed was a little bittersweet for me. It means that it’s truly the end of the summer, and that winter will soon be upon us. I can’t say I love the cold. However, come spring, the snow will melt and we will be able to plant again, and watch the perennials emerge in the spring. As we clean up the garden for the winter, I can’t help but reflect on all of the joy, wonder, and learning that this garden has brought to me and those who have cared for it or passed by it. This is the final goodbye to our garden in 2017, but we will be back in the spring of 2018! 


Saving Seeds From Our Garden

October 1, 2017

Last week I lead a seed saving workshop for teacher candidates as well as teachers in the TDSB. We were able to save seeds from sunflowers, milkweed, purple coneflower, sorrel, bee’s balm, lavender hyssop and tobacco. All of the participants went out to the garden and collected the dried seed heads themselves, and then brought them back inside for a very productive seed saving session. All of these seeds that were saved from our own garden will be saved in the OISE Seed Saving library, which is a part of the Toronto Seed Saving Library. Anyone in the community can donate seeds and take seeds. This Seed Saving Library is a great resource for teachers and teacher candidates to use with their classes. Curriculum connections from seeds and seed saving can be made, but are not limited to, the science curriculum, as we well as the math curriculum. Teachers could also make connections to the visual arts, language arts and social studies curriculums as well.


Adults were not the only ones saving seeds from our garden that day. A group of grade one students also came to the garden to do a fun workshop. These students got to pick milkweed pods and then save the seeds to take home with them. It was a slightly windy day and they got very excited about all of the milkweed fluff that was flying everywhere. The students made the connection that the fluff connected to the seeds was there so that seeds would fly everywhere and grow wherever it landed. I was also surprised by how engaged students were in saving the seeds. They were focused and on task. Saving seeds is really a way to understand the entire cycle of plant life from saving the seeds, planting and growing the plant and then saving the seeds from that same plant to start all over again.


Seed saving is a meaningful and empowering activity for people of all ages that connects us to our environment and is important for plant diversity, resiliency and security, and anyone with access to plants can do it.


Learning Garden Open House

September 22, 2017
Last week we had our Learning Garden Open House. The turnout was fantastic. It was a beautiful day and people were happy to be outside. We also offered some snacks, which always helps bring people (especially students) out to an event. The excitement about the rest of the ESE events was wonderful.
Many people were surprised at how much we are able to grow in our boxes right on Bloor Street. It was amazing to watch people realize that the garden they’d been walking by everyday was actually a rich and diverse garden. The location of the Learning Garden really makes me think about the way that urban space can be used. If a garden can thrive at the intersection of Bloor and St. George streets, it would be possible to turn a lot of other spaces in the city into gardens as well. It doesn’t take much space to plant a garden that humans, animals and insects can all benefit from. 

Indigenous Knowledge and Gardening Workshop with Isaac Crosby

September 22, 2017

This Monday, we had the pleasure of learning how to connect Indigenous Knowledge to gardening. Isaac Crosby, who is the Urban Agriculture lead hand at Evergreen Brickworks shared his knowledge on gardening. Isaac learned much of what he knows about gardening from the knowledge that was passed down to him from his own family. In terms of education, Isaac firmly believes that students must know where their food comes from, and getting out into a garden is a great way to do this. He shared knowledge on plants indigenous to this area and important to his culture such as the Three Sisters which are squash, maize and climbing beans as well as the four medicines which are tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar. All of the four medicines are currently growing in our Indigenous Education Garden in the Learning Garden. He also let us know which plants that grow in this area are edible that many might not know about.

Isaac Crosby

Isaac shared knowledge that we will certainly be using in our own garden. He introduced us to the clay pot irrigation system which he learned from his grandfather and now uses it to keep the gardens hydrated at Evergreen Brickworks. This system is easy to make and use. To do this, you take two unglazed clay pots and glue them together using gorilla glue. Next, block one whole at the end of one pot with a cork and put this end into the garden with about an inch or two sticking out from the soil. Finally, fill it with water using the hole at the end that is above soil and refill in about 3-4 days. The clay pots are permeable, which means they will contain the water when the soil is wet, and water will seep into the soil when the soil is dry. This a great way to limit the number of times you have to water your garden in those hot summer months.

Isaac also shared knowledge on what to do for a garden in all four seasons. Isaac truly had so much to share during his workshop and we are so grateful to have had him as our guest at the Learning Garden. I would recommend paying him a visit at Evergreen Brickworks to learn even more from him.


Meet Your New Learning Garden Coordinator

September 12, 2017

My name is Olivia and I’ve just taken on my new role as the Learning Garden Coordinator. My first time watering the garden I was surprised to see how many people were interested in the garden and wanted to stop and talk to me. They had questions about what was growing in the garden and were surprised to know that they had been walking by this garden and did not realize the richness and variety of plants that live here. For me that is what is what is so amazing about urban gardens: they foster community and engagement while positively contributing to the environment.


I have been lucky to have been born into a family that values gardening. One of my fondest childhood memories was going to the greenhouse with my family in the spring where every year my brother and I would get to choose one plant that would be exclusively ours to plant where we wanted in the yard and we were responsible for caring for it. I usually chose the flashy annuals while my brother often chose the more subdued perennials. When I found out that bleeding hearts or lady slippers as they are sometimes referred to, could be both, I was hooked. My bleeding heart plant is still flourishing in my parent’s yard. This in itself was a tremendous learning activity for us, from learning where the types of plants we chose would thrive in the yard, and how often to water it and to learn how different plants would do better at different times of year. We also helped with my parents’ flourishing vegetable gardens, but our true and most significant learning occurred when we felt ownership over our own plants. I will now be caring for, learning from and inviting others to do the same in our own learning garden at OISE, and hope that others will also feel a sense of ownership and wonder for our OISE Learning Garden.

Senses, Sorrel and Seeds

July 31, 2017

Plant of the Week: Wood Sorrel (oxalis montana)
Garden: Equity and Diversity


Thank you to all of the folks who came out to our Learning Garden Open House last week. It was neat to see so many faces of OISE- faculty and students from several departments. A highlight for me was seeing attendees participate in a Plant I.D. Scavenger Hunt to win plants to take home. The activity was a way for students to get up close and personal with the OISE Learning Garden plants, while also learning their names and qualities.

Plant I.D.

I love this activity, because it triggers the use of all five senses. One challenge is to find a plant with a strong smell or taste. Once found, students must consult the garden maps online to figure out the name of the plant. A common finding in this category was garden sorrel for its zesty, lemony flavour.

open house July

Like many native plants, and despite its many uses, garden sorrel has been labelled as a weed. Its leaves are edible and tasty in salads or on their own. Garden sorrel has small, delicate creamy pink blooms. It thrives in the cool weather of spring or fall, and although it does best with full sun exposure, partial sun can allow it to go to seed further in the season.

Sorrel is a wonderful plant for children to smell and taste in the garden.  In our garden, it is starting to go to seed quite early in the season. While many plants tend to become bitter when they go to seed (due to energy being transferred to the seeds rather than growing the plant or fruit), I find that sorrel still tastes delicious.

That being said, it is fairly easy to save the seeds of sorrel once they dry out. To me, issues of seed saving and seed exchange is interesting to learn about when studying sustainable ecosystems (Grade 9), biodiversity (Grade 6) and habitats and communities (Grade 4). It is also an issue of ecojustice, where environmental and social inequities are inextricably linked.


Keep posted for fall seed saving workshops to learn more! I also couldn't help but include this wonderful photo (above) of Chase, an MT student, getting really excited about the pollinator sightings today!

OISE Learning Garden Open House TOMORROW

June 24, 2017


Tomorrow is the OISE Learning Garden Open House, July 25th from 11:30am – 1:0pm! We hope you can join us to learn about what’s growing in the garden, and ways in which learning gardens can enhance your teaching practice.

Come grab some delicious carrot or pumpkin muffins and Ontario-grown fruits and veggies, play a brief "Plant I.D. Hunt" game to win prizes, flavor your water with fresh mint and lemon balm, or just come to say hi!

Medicinal Sage Planted in the Indigenous Education Garden

July 17, 2017

Plant of the Week: White Sage (artemisia ludoviciana)
Garden: Indigenous Education

Thank you to Brother Nature at Evergreen Brickworks, for the generous sage transplants! I finished this busy week at the OISE Learning Garden, taking a moment of gratitude for the wonderful weather, the kindness of people, and the opportunity to deepen my learning at the garden and OISE more generally. I was able to replant the sage in the Indigenous garden, next to the tobacco and sweet grass.


Working at Evergreen Brickworks (as well as the garden) has broadened my knowledge of native plants as well as expanded my pedagogical repertoire on place-based learning. Evergreen Brickworks has many species of native plants, including a Medicine Garden specifically for Indigenous medicinal plants. They offer tours of the spaces throughout the year, which I recommend to everyone!

sage indigenous garden

Sage thrives in dry soil with high drainage and ample sun. Sage is an important and thus reminder of life’s interconnectedness. Sage is a medicine, and integral to many Indigenous peoples across this land. When growing sage in the classroom, it is a wonderful opportunity to welcome an Elder or medicinal knowledge keeper into the classroom. Indigenous peoples continue to be leaders in conservation and protection of the land and water, and thus fundamental perspectives to any garden-based learning.

Multicultural Learning Gardens

July 10, 2017

Plant of the Week: Chicory Red Dandelion (cichorium intybus)
Garden: Equity and Diversity

The chicory red dandelion is finally flourishing. It was planted in the spring, and needed a few weeks of sun and rain to establish itself in the Equity and Inclusive Education Garden. I have tasted some of it, as it is a delicious topping to salads and dressings. Red dandelion is not native to Ontario but has become naturalized to the area. It lives as a wild flower on the margins, often at roadsides, and has been labelled as invasive or a weed; only recently is it considered to be naturalized. It reminds us as educators to always welcome and celebrate those who are new to our school community.


While learning gardens with native species are important for local ecosystems, learning gardens can also be tools to support a more inclusive learning environment. Multicultural gardens can include plants, practices and pedagogies that are culturally relevant to Toronto’s diverse student population. By bringing in plants from other countries and ecological zones that are significant to your students, you are honouring their prior knowledge and experience. Creating a multicultural garden is also an opportunity to share, discuss and honor identity authentically. I have been fortunate to see how multicultural gardens can be spaces for building bridges between individuals and identity groups.

The Global Roots Garden is an example of community-building through gardening!

Growing Resilience

July 3, 2017

Plant of the Week: Black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia hirta)
Garden: Holistic Education

It is July already, and the heat is in full force. The rain has been common, but not enough to truly give these plants the drink that they need! When watering the garden recently, I noticed a young girl walking by who could not keep her eyes off the Black-eyed Susans. This was understandable, as they are a bright yellow splash of sunshine among a largely monotone urban setting. She told me that they “brightened” her walk home. At the end of the day, that’s what learning gardens are all about, right?

Black-eyed Susans are hardy plants, attracting pollinators including bees, birds, and butterflies. Their blooms are long lasting with their seed heads providing food for birds well after the flowers have gone. They are great additions to the garden, because they grow well in a variety of soil conditions. They are resilient, as they can tolerate harsh conditions such as strong winds and intense sun.

In the past, I coordinated educational programs for urban schools at a sustainable farm. The topic of resilience was frequently discussed, as we would observe how plants, animals, and soil would seem to thrive even through severe weather. (As I mentioned, I am from Manitoba where the weather alone can build some serious resilience among plants, animals, and humans!) Observing the resilience in perennials, such as the Black-eyed Susan, was often a starting point for what resilience looks like in our own lives and communities. Conversely, observing plants that failed was also a starting point for understanding what resilience societies must do to support one another.

The Holistic Education Garden reflects OISE’s values in education that center around individuals, societies, and environments. Gardening is character-building. It is therapeutic, and facilitates a natural space for self-reflection. It is a physical reminder of the Earth’s living interconnectedness. In today’s heat, I cannot help but think about how garden-based learning can foster resilience in students.

Milkweed and Monarchs

June 26, 2017

Plant of the Week: Milkweed (asclepias syriaca)
Garden: Environmental and Sustainability Education


I am constantly blown away with the size of the milkweed every time I visit the garden. Even more, each visit to the milkweed means a hello to a monarch butterfly stopping by to feed on its nectar.  The light pink flowers of the milkweeds have bloomed, containing a bitter white sap that is toxic to the predators of a monarch butterfly. This toxin is released when making the larvae, to prevent predators from coming close. While watering this week, several community members passing by were curious about what pollination actually means. We often hear about the danger in a decreasing pollinator population, so here is why!

Simply put, pollinators carry pollen from the male part of a flower to the female part of the flower. Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and some bat species, are attracted to the nectar of the flower, and collect pollen while looking for food or shelter. This is an act of fertilization, allowing the plants to then produce more flowers, fruits, and form seeds. Whether intentional or not, they play a critical role in the food supply for humans and wildlife.


Observing and studying the food supply, from the fertilizing of plants, all the way to what we place in our mouths, is a topic that can connect to ideas across the curriculum. Simply watching a monarch butterfly visit from plant to plant is so fascinating, and can spark thinking around other environmental and sustainability big ideas. This can include the pillars of sustainability, justice in the food production chain, urbanization, and pollution and pesticide use.

The David Suzuki Foundation provides a background and resources to growing pollinator-friendly gardens, as well as other tools to share if children are interested in being more involved.

Active and Healthy Living

June 19, 2017

Plant of the Week: Virginia Mountain Mint (pycnanthemum virginianum)
Garden: Holistic Education

For those who take the time to walk slowly past the OISE Learning Garden, you’ll notice that each garden has its own rich aroma. No aroma is as enjoyable, to me, as the Virginia Mountain Mint growing in the Holistic Education Garden. Virginia Mountain Mint is native to Ontario, and has been used by Indigenous peoples medicinally in teas to treat headaches, indigestion, coughs and fevers. It continues to be a valued medicine, as well as an enjoyable plant to consume on salads or with baked goods. Mint is also a natural stimulant, where the smell alone can provoke you to feel more alert and energized.


When harvesting mint, I started thinking about the way in which learning gardens can activate the mind and body. Naturally, I started to think about how environmental education in general can promote active and healthy living (see Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum for more information!) and how active, healthy living can promote pro-environmental behaviour/ values. One example of environmental education is learning IN the environment. In the context of gardening, this is everything from weeding and watering, garden maintenance, harvesting and preserving food, and simply being active outside. Simply caring for a garden opens numerous ways for children to be healthy and active.

Whether students are in junior or senior level, integrating environmental education with health and physical activity is a way to engage students in a context that can be translated to their everyday lives. The opportunity to participate in physical activity outdoors also helps students to observe, explore, and appreciate nature such that its benefits can be realized and adapted as they transition into adulthood.

Planting team

The Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario (COEO) remind us that active time outdoors correlates with increased physical activity and fitness in children. Their online resources provide extensive lesson plans and activities for educators to reconnect children with nature through physical activity and outdoor education.

Going back to mint, take a moment to enjoy the aroma next time you pass the OISE Learning Garden. Who knows, you may get your next brilliant brainwave, just as I did!

Creativity in the Garden June 12, 2017

Plant of the Week: Wild Chives (Allium cernuum)
Garden: Creativity in Education

Barbeque season is in full swing, and that means one thing for me: potato salad. How does this relate to the garden, you’re asking?

Well, the wild chives are thriving in the Creativity in Education garden, which is inspiring me to get a little more creative in my cooking at home. Wild chives are delicious to taste, add a lovely aroma to the garden, and serve as a natural pesticide. Chives are an edible plant that have been used for decades to spice up food. Every part of the plant is edible, including the flowers. I often use them in potato salad, which is especially exciting when most of my ingredients are sourced locally.


The Creativity in Education garden is a reminder of the profound value that the creative process has in strengthening a child’s connection to nature, and their sense of place. There are many ways to encourage creativity in the garden, aside from cooking up tasty garden treats! 

The learning garden can also be experienced by investigating and ‘touching’ with their eyes and heart through Visual Arts Education. An example of this may be spending time sketching garden “treasures” (leaves, worms, etc,) or using garden/ natural materials to create art. Creating artistic interpretations of nature encourages a connection, inspries creativity, develops focus and concentration AND gives children an opportunity to communicate scientific information.

Art crayons

As we know, that stronger connection to nature and place adds value when exploring other topics in the curriculum. Cornell University developed a guide for teachers to implement garden-based learning, Dig Art! Cultivating Creativity in the Garden which largely incorporates visual arts activities. For more information, visit the Creativity in Education Resource page.

Wild Tobacco Planted

June 8, 2017

Anthropology tobacco

Thank you to Kristy Bard and the Department of Anthropology for their wonderful tobacco donation today. They gave us four wild tobacco plants which they started from seed in their own greenhouse. The tobacco will be planted in the OISE Indigenous Education Garden, as it is a sacred medicine alongside sweetgrass, sage and cedar.

Thank you for the plants, and your ongoing support to the OISE Learning Garden community!

- Janna

Learning Gardens and the Seasons

June 5, 2017

Plant of the Week: Bluebells (campanula rotundifolia)
Garden: Holistic Education Garden


The bluebells are in full bloom! As a child, I have strong associations of bluebells as a reminder that winter is TRULY over. (Growing up in Manitoba, it isn’t uncommon for snow to fall in May!) Bluebells are common across Canada, and their small blueish-purple trumpet flowers are attractants of butterflies. They can grow in most soils, and the sight of their blooms in early spring are often music to a gardener’s eyes, making them a wonderful addition to a learning garden. They are central to the Holistic Education theme, as they encourage mindfulness and a heightened awareness to the changing seasons.

Garden Team

The study of seasons and weather patterns can be an excellent way to connect students’ observations in the garden with larger topics in weather and climate change. This can be from grade one, where students learn about daily and seasonal changes, to grade 10, where students are engaged in climate change issues. Students can spend time observing the growth among plant, animals, and insects in the garden, and communicate their findings through a variety of mediums such a creative writing, scientific journaling, or visual representation.

Cornell University offers excellent garden-based programs, including guides to integrate weather monitoring and climate change in the classroom for elementary, junior, and secondary students. Click here to learn more!

As for me, seeing the bluebells today reminded me to follow in the footsteps of my younger self: to sit, reflect on the past season, and to take in the multisensory signs of spring!

- Janna

Garden Planting Party
May 29, 2017

Plant of the Week: Columbine (aquilegia canadensis)
Garden: Indigenous Education

This week, a large group of MT students and faculty met at the garden to prepare it for the spring. Spring-time garden maintenance can be simple when the garden consists of perennials plants! Almost every plant survived the winter, and many were on their way to fully blooming.

Spring prep

In the Indigenous Education Garden, we were very excited to see the splatters of pink and yellow nodding on the stems of the columbine. After several months of bleak and grey winter colours, it continues to be an unexpected joy when the first colours of the season appear. Columbine can stay in bloom for roughly 4-6 weeks starting in spring, making it a wonderful plant to have in your school garden.

planting party

Columbine is a low maintenance wildflower native to Ontario, and thrives in shade. Its brightly coloured flowers attract hummingbirds, a lovely garden pollinator and reminder of the interconnectedness of Earth’s species.


Aside from being in awe of the colours of the garden, we spent the morning planting a few additions, clearing out weeds and garbage, and adding manure compost and mulch to the soil. We often forget that the quality of our plants, fromthe stems to the fruit, depends on the quality of the soil. We must ensure that they receive adequate nutrients year after year by adding nutrient-rich compost. Mulch (such as decaying woodchips) was also added to enhance the soil’s nutrient and moisture retention. These kinds of practices mimic patterns of soil health found in nature.

Watering Indigenous Ed

Soil and groundwater health are components of the Ontario Science and Technology curriculum across grade levels. The planning and care for a Learning Garden at your school is a great way for students to learn hands-on about soil health. Students can engage in experiental activities even without a garden, with resources such as Dig Deeper and “Dirt! The Movie”,  you can link soil health to other big ideas such as food security and environmental conservation.

- Janna

Our new Learning Garden Coordinator!

Friday, May 19, 2017


Last night was my first evening in the OISE Community Learning Garden as the official ESE Garden Coordinator. With a background in urban farming and outdoor education, I am very excited to be apart of the garden team!

Sage columbine

Although our 6 flourishing gardens may be small, they are in fact bottomless pits of learning opportunities - be it growing Indigenous plants, understanding the importance of soil health, or bringing teaching curriculum alive in a urban gardening context. The bright-eyed expression of a young girl I met last night reminded me of the authentic excitement children have when simply taking in the garden. With her nose fully immersed in the bountiful bushels of sage, she immediately smelled hints of pizza sauce.


I think I know what she asked to eat for dinner!  As for me, I took home a small bunch of wood sorrel to add to my epic salad. Looking forward to the mainly flavours, smells and sights of the garden this summer!

- Janna


Planting Seeds for Change: Seed Library Workshop

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

This evening, I led my first-ever Seed Saving workshop. Luckily, seed-saving is an organic process, that when broken down, is easily understood. I included visual aids in my presentation, and Hilary brought real examples for attendees to manipulate. We went down into the Learning Garden after discussing the process, searching for dried plant heads. Our target was milkweed, swamp milkweed, sunflower, and coneflower, but we also had bee balm ready for harvest. Our workshop attendees worked really quickly; we even had one 3 year old in the group, which was wonderful! We ended up with over 50 packets of seeds to add to the OISE Seed Library, helping to spread native plants species all over the GTA in the spring.

Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

The photo below and more featured on Facebook (@OISEESE), Instagram (@learnOISEESE), and Twitter (@OISEESE)!


Open House 2016!

Monday, September 26th, 2016

We had a tremendous turnout for the Learning Garden Open House! Numerous students and community members joined small tours of each garden. They had the opportunity to smell the wondrous species along Bloor. It was a great opportunity to share some of the information about the gardens regarding plant choice and teh conceptual meaning within the gardens themselves. We also had updated seed bookmarks to distribute!  We were happy to have Michelle Peterson-Badali, Associate Dean of Research, International and Innovation at OISE, join us for this event; she shared her loved ones’ commitment to ESE initiatives.

This was also the beginning of our presence on Instagram with an official account! You can follow us at @learnOISEESE.

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

Open House

Pictured above (L-R), Amanda Rodríguez, Michele Peterson Badali, Alysse Kennedy

Wriggly Wanderings
September 13th, 2016

I was thrilled to hear that a recent MT graduate, Miggy Esteban, wanted to bring his primary students to the OISE Learning garden! I eagerly began planning their morning field trip.  We started with a lunch chat on the art installation set beside UTS which focuses on nature in the city.  Vermicomposting with the worms in Hilary's classroom was the next stop. Surprisingly, some students were more interested in the spider living inside the bin and other creepy crawlers, such as the potato bugs that live alongside the worms. We read a story - Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin and then headed to OISE's Learning Garden, focusing on plants that the students could smell and feel. Then on to the OISE Seed Library; naturally,  each student got sent home with a package or two of seeds to plant at home. They were excited to add to their respective gardens, balcony or backyard!  Then onto a tour of the Eco-Art Installations. While I thought the class would be tired climbing all of those stairs to see the artworks, they did not complain once! We finished with a spectacular view of the city from OISE's Nexus Lounge; I was fascinated by what they pointed out and discovered, their questions, and awe. The reason we ended here was to reflect on the impact of our decisions about the environment. What a wonderful opportunity to share with young minds! 

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member




Milkweed Giveaway

September 10th, 2016

Today I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty! I had milkweeds that were taking over the planters, so I dug them out. Pleasant yellow aphids throughout the latter part of the summer had grown quite attached to their plants. A passerby asked me what we did to prevent them for coming back. I replied that we accept them as a part of nature and certainly do not spray our plants!

There was a woman walking by with a smile that matched mine. We nodded to one another and she came over to speak to me. She had lovely questions regarding the Aboriginal Education garden, the one that I was working in. We spoke about our knowledge of FNMI communities in our area and she commented on her love of plants. Since only three milkweed plants were spoken for, I offered her one. We tucked it away behind the garden for safe-keeping, until it had dried some. If ever you see the team outside watering, feel free to say hello!

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member



Info Fair

September 8th, 2016

Today Alysse and I had the pleasure of welcoming incoming OISE students to the building and our programming! Alysse created and produced seed bookmarks. They had our contact information and best of all, they grow if you plant the bookmark down the line.

There were many friendly faces and honest comments. Students shared the information they were digesting during orientation. I recalled the time I was in their shoes one short year ago, meeting ESE representatives for the first time. For a second year in a row, I heard students requesting French resources, the same as I had done a year prior. 

I was happy to be back in the city to help out and field these great questions!

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member


Building Community with the Learning Garden

August 16, 2016

As the first MT students to take the Summer Semester, we had classes every Tuesday and Thursday, which meant that it was convenient for us to water after school. After some of my fellow Learning Garden Team Members and I were done our classes, we bonded over watering the plants together and discussing our busy but fruitful day of learning. 

The watering became a nice break from all the sitting indoors! After a stressful day, it was a way of de-stressing and re-energizing for rest of the day. I am really glad I had my ‘cohort BFFs’ to share the watering with since it became a collaborative effort that strengthened our sense of community. We shared stories of our watering adventures and took pride in our work. 

I can definitely see how initiatives such as community gardening can strengthen feelings of camaraderie and a sense of connection to place. For me, the gardens are now filled with memories of friendship and hard work we have all put into over the summer. 

- Jung-Sun (JS), OISE Learning Garden Team Member

Watering the Learning Gardens after class on a hot August day

Bee the Change in the Learning Garden!

July 26, 2016

The OISE garden is in full bloom in July each year, but never have we had such a blossoming of pollinating flowers as this year!  Over the past few weeks we have seen profuse flowerings from the Common and Swamp Milkweeds, Virginia Mountain Mint,  Bee Balm, and this week, Purple Coneflowers.  This is attracting lots of new friends - bees and butterflies galore!  This supports beautifully the Bee the Change art installation we created for inside of OISE in the spring.  This collaborative artwork, created by students and faculty, aims to raise awareness of the challenges faced by native bee populations, and encourage the OISE community to take action to elp them, like filling gardens with native pollinating plants.  By aligning our artworks and the plants in our Learning Garden, we like to think we are walking the talk - or maybe that's planting and growing the talk :-)


The Garden in Action: OISE Daycare Workshop
July 11th, 2016

This morning, the Garden Team organized a workshop for the OISE Daycare. We accompanied the pre-school children to see the Learning Garden, and engage in a vegetable print-making art activity. We were incredibly excited for the opportunity to share our love of the garden and repurposing materials with little ones! 

To prepare, we saved the ends of roasted veggies: sweet potatoes, potato, asparagus, rosemary, and mint leaves for their beautiful print possibilities.  Our team of MT garden educators was so large that we had a one-to-one ratio! This was great news, as we were able to partner up with one child each and speak to them more attentively.

We got to see the garden in action - bumblebees a plenty! At one point, there were four bees in one garden. The children were very intrigued by the different colours and smells of the garden. Then, it was time to head back inside for the vegetable print-making activity. One child was very interested in keeping their leaves and vegetables on the paper itself. The paper had an array of different prints; we didn't miss a single veggie or leaf!  

Overall, spending time with the little ones brightened our morning.  We were grateful for the opportunity to spend time outdoors & share the love of the garden!

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

A student from the OISE daycare explores the garden Using celery stalk as a stamp to make colourful prints

Mixing primary colours with broccoli and celery and making prints

Sharing Stories on the Meaning We Make out of Nature
July 8th, 2016

One of the things I love about having our gardens lining busy Bloor St is that they're right out in the middle of this thriving neighbourhood. I'm always touched by the amount of support I receive from strangers on their way to or from their destinations. There have been countless sideways glances and smiles from passerbys who always look a little surprised to see someone in regular clothes, not a uniform, tending to a city garden.

Sometimes when I meet their smiles with my own they stop and chat. I'm always curious about what is it about that individual that brings this person to take the time out of their day to spend a minute talking plants with a random person. Often it's those with an affinity for pretty flowers, a seasoned backyard gardener or budding green thumb - or sometimes just someone simply sending out an SOS for directions. 

Tonight it was a stranger with a story who caught me by surprise and made me laugh. A woman carrying a rainbow umbrella stopped to ask if I was one of the people who looked after the garden. I said yes and took her through the names of the different plots. After I mentioned the ESE garden contained my favourites - sunflowers - she paused, thinking. She said she had once given sunflowers as a gift to a close friend after her friend's partner had passed away. She said she had wanted the sunflowers to comfort her friend by reminding her of the vibrant qualities of her partner that had made her fall in love with them - their bright, cheerful personality. She ended her story with a chuckle, saying that she didn't know if her friend really "got it" but the flowers were well-received all the same. We both laughed and nodded, agreeing that not everyone is as awed by plants as we were. We bonded over our shared way of making meaning out of nature and from that moment the neighbourhood had one more familiar face in it, thanks to the garden. 

- Alysse, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

The first sunflower blooms tall above milkweeds in the ESE garden

Join Us! OISE Learning Garden Open House
July 1st, 2016

We'd like to extend an invite to members of the community to come find out more about the OISE Community Learning Garden! Please join us on Thursday, July 14th, 2016 to meet the gardners, mingle with fellow environmental enthusiasts, have a snack, and - of course - enjoy the beautiful gardens!

Come on out to this season's Open House!

We hope to see you there! Look out for tweets from the event using the hashtag #OISEgarden 

- Alysse, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

Three's Company
June 16th, 2016

On this evening, I had four wonderful helping hands. My two close friends, Violeta & Amanda, also MT Candidates, joined me in watering the plants. They had finished using the App Aurasma for their technology courses. It was a pleasant surprise to run into them! I was incredibly happy to have their help and company. I was able to spend more time in the moment, without typing up blog thoughts or researching the native species in the garden. We had a splendid time being outside in the sunlight and taking our turns at each garden. We enjoyed the fact that this week there was minimal garbage. We only found a few scraps of paper that had made their way into the garden beds!

We took a snapshot of the water stream and the French OISE sign, l’Institut d’études pédagogiques de l’Ontario. We share a love of photography, which made it perfect that we worked together that evening. 

I was happy to share this moment with my dear friends. We were on the lookout for the squirrel, who didn’t make an appearance that evening. We talked about their wellness project as an aspect of their technology class. I constantly look for ways to blend technology with wellness and environmental education. I’m looking forward to mine in the summer session!

Having my friends helped remind me that I use others’ energy to re-energize me. While I enjoy taking the time to be outside while gardening, I prefer spending time with others. It helped that I had done prior research to share what I knew with my friends!

Don’t forget to learn more about what grows in the gardens at

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

Watering the gardens on a warm summer day

Fostering Eco-literacy & Healthy Outdoor Attitudes
June 10th, 2016

I had recently been asking myself, Why is the garden important to me? Where did this passion come from? How can I instill this love in my future students?

There has been research done regarding the last question. Researchers have found that an early exposure to one’s natural surroundings can greatly influence their feelings towards their natural environment. I will be teaching at the Intermediate and Senior levels. Beyond “Mme, can we please read outside?” how will I foster true care in the world around us? I don’t have potential answers quite yet, though hopefully I will stumble upon more research that helps me get there!

In terms of the first two questions, I did spend ample time outdoors growing up. When I got my hands on my own bicycle, I would spend hours outdoors, packing my snacks, water, books, and camera. I had a favourite spot that used to be more secluded to sit back and read. Now, they’ve added more connections to roads in my neighbourhood and there is more traffic there.

I also looked up to my mum a lot, who enjoyed tending to her garden. Now as an adult, I prefer spending time outdoors whenever possible. The same goes for waste & recycling: my parents emphasized composting only what we could not consume. We would finish everything off of our plate, and this follows me into adulthood. I learned early on what to rinse out and recycle, following in my parents’ footsteps. It may be that some of my students grew up without these experiences, so I try to tie that into my thinking of reaching out to all learners to spent time outdoors. 

I'm glad I continue to learn as I water the learning gardens. Without this knowledge, I couldn't envision bringing learning gardens to future communities and schools!

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

Mulch Madness
June 6th, 2016

Tonight, my colleague Sarah & I finished off adding mulch to the gardens; I couldn't believe so much time had passed with only topsoil! Of course, in the apartment, I don't have mulch laying about and my plants have done well. I wondered if the conditions of an outdoor garden, with many species together in the concrete, affects their success. I will admit that I do not have the opportunity of welcoming pollinators to my plants, so perhaps that is also part of it!

For those that wonder with me, we mulch to

• prevent weeds
• retain moisture in the soil
• keep the soil cool
• improve the overall aesthetic of the garden!

Additionally, mulches made from organic materials help improve the soil’s fertility, through decomposition. We used a variety of mulch, though mainly cedar & compost. You can check out more information regarding mulch at this fabulous website:

Here’s hoping that #mulchmadness catches on in the coming weeks.

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

Milkweeds in bloom on Bloor St.

Bridging Community and Learning through the Gardens
June 2nd, 2016

On this day of tending to the gardens, I had not brought a physical copy of a book to read. Instead, I replied to a few emails, then put away my screens and tried to focus on being present. Looking around, the first observation I made were multiple new burrows in the soil. It’s nice to see some non-human activity in our gardens, and thankfully there has been minimal garbage left in the gardens. 

I also observed more green space towards the entrance (the Equity & Inclusivity Gardens), whereas the east-most gardens have plants that are in full bloom and different colours. This definitely adds to the overall aesthetic and diversification of the Learning Gardens; several individuals stopped by briefly to admire the visual appeal of the gardens. I was happy to share with them the rationale behind the Learning Garden and its choice in plants, as they were quite interested. This got me thinking of the differences between a Community Garden and our Learning Gardens. As explained on our website, ours takes pieces of both, and I believe they can successfully coexist!

During my stay, I did some research on the side and came across a fantastic example of how Community and Learning Gardens can be used in the educational sphere: “Toronto schools are offering hands-on nature and food education.” I still have a lot to learn, however I think that these are important questions and discussion points to have!

Finally, I took some time to look into support for the columbine’s success, who add bright orange to the gardens. So far, this is what I learned:

  • Columbines prefer moist soil.
  • They are adaptable and easy to grow!
  • They do best in shaded area and tend to avoid full sun.
  • They enjoy finding shade in trees (we planted one of our Columbine plants near the cedar!)
  • Ideally, they attract bees and hummingbirds.
  • With regular fertilization, Columbines should bloom with strong flowers and produce plenty of foliage.


Don’t forget to take a look at 
Thank you for reading!

- Amanda, OISE Learning Garden Team Member

Fresh pops of blue appear in the garden!

Planting Day: The Garden Awakens

May 27, 2016

Today was a bright & sunny start to the season for the OISE Community Learning Garden! There were plenty of people passing by who stopped and expressed interest in our work at OISE. There were large groups of secondary school students on campus, tourists, and even friends familiar with the gardens!

One of the first things I noticed as I moved to the first Equity & Inclusive Education Garden was a large hole near one of the signposts. My instincts told me that the hole was too deep to have been a footprint and that we likely had a fluffy critter hanging around. Mere minutes after I began to water this garden, I felt an onlooker to my right. The planting team will recall a sweet black squirrel that jumped suddenly and scampered away when we made eye contact. Despite this initial scare, this critter continued to hang around. He tried several attempts to approach the garden without crossing my path. When I moved the hose to another garden, he would jump into the last garden, hide his peanuts, and run off again.

He did this with every single one of the gardens, enjoying the wet and malleable soil. At one point, he got so comfortable with me that he even worked under the spray of the hose, which certainly surprised me! I have included photos for you to admire and perhaps give input to help us name the Black Squirrel. 

Stay tuned for more updates on what other furry friends visit the gardens this season! For more information on what's growing and garden events, be sure to check out 

- Amanda, OISE Community Learning Garden Team Member


Many wildlife creatures enjoy spending time in the gardens - just like this jumpy black squirrel.

Indigenous Approaches to Gardening
with Elder Jacqueline Lavalley
October 9, 2015

This week we were fortunate to have OISE’s Elder, Jacqueline Lavalley, speak with us about Indigenous approaches to gardening. Jacqueline shared stories about her childhood experiences growing up working with the land. She spoke to the great importance of showing respect and appreciation for what the earth provides us, especially in our gardens and crops. Jacqueline spoke specifically about how to garden so that we are not inflicting unnecessary harm to the earth as a sign of deep respect for its life-sustaining gifts. For example, when we are gardening we should be mindful of the tools we are using – are we using tools that can damage the roots of the plants we are trying to harvest? Jacqueline spoke about the need to remain grateful for what the earth provides for us, and a way to demonstrate that gratefulness is in the tools and ways we garden.

There was a fantastic turn out and we had the opportunity to engage in community building, when we went around the circle of attendees and heard from each person about what brought them there today. People shared stories of their own experiences and it was lovely to have members of the Ojibway nation and First Nations Junior and Senior school here in Toronto. Many in attendance were curious about how we can meaningfully embrace and honour some of these traditions in our own gardening practices.

The conversation throughout this presentation was positive and thought provoking. We also received wonderful advice regarding the OISE Learning Gardens that we look forward to embracing in the future.  Thank you to all who attended and especially Jacqueline for sharing her knowledge and passion with us!

Jacqueline OISE Learning Garden 2015

October 1, 2015

Our 3rd Annual Learning Garden Open House

Today was the OISE Community Learning Garden Open House and we were excited to welcome new and familiar faces to the garden! Over the lunch hour various members of the community ranging from students, to instructors, and those who live in the immediate community came by to take in the garden and learn about the work that has been done on the garden through the past spring and summer.

Tours of the gardens were offered, and maps were located at each plot to show specifically what plants were growing. Various resources were made available during the Open House. Books and texts about gardening were on display, and information regarding OISE’s branch of the Toronto Seed Library was provided. Another great resource are the people who work with the garden, such as Alysse Kennedy, who worked with the Learning Garden throughout the spring and summer. Alysse shared lessons and activities she did with 3-5 year olds in the garden that got people thinking about their own teaching. There was wonderful conversation going on about the potential integration of the learning garden in upcoming placements. Students were asking questions about incorporating gardening into their classrooms and swapping tips and tricks for gardening at home. It was fantastic to see and hear how excited the OISE community was about the potential in and around the garden. We were treated to homemade kale chips, carrot cake and organic apples from Hilary Inwood’s very own backyard. These delicious offerings were a wonderful example of the fantastic local foods available to us in the GTA this time of year! The Open House was a wonderful celebration of community, the land, and the collaboration needed to keep the gardens a flourishing space!

All of us working with the OISE Community Learning Garden would like to say a big thank you to everyone who came out to the Open House. We would also like to extend our appreciation to our partner organizations - TD Friends of the Environment Foundation in particular - for helping us build and maintain this wonderful space.

Learning Garden Open House

September 25, 2015

From Seeds to Sunflowers and Back Again

As the leaves begin to embrace new colours up and down streets all over Toronto, the arrival of fall is as undeniable as the proliferation of pumpkin spice lattes found in the hands of our community members. And while the cooler temperatures starting to sweep across the city signals the beginning of our descent into winter, first autumn brings us a new season of excitement for the OISE Community Learning Garden. Having been able to work on the gardens since our annual planting this past May, it has been a treat to see the life cycles of our plants as they have grown. The lush greens of our summer-sunkissed plants are transitioning now into a new sepia-hued stage to protect their seeds during the cold. This has granted us an action-packed time of year – harvest time!

Once again we brought our littlest green thumbs from the OISE Early Learning Centre daycare to trek out to the garden, this time donning jackets and toques. The children watched attentively as sunflower heads ripe for picking were removed from their towering stalks – quite a feat given how tall they have grown Back inside, the children worked together to pluck, sort and pinch sunflower seeds between their teeny fingers to put them inside little envelopes. They kept these envelopes of seeds to plant their own sunflowers next year. It was a buzzing and collaborative activity that everyone took part in and enjoyed, with inquisitive eyes and big smiles on their faces. I am so glad to have been able to share in exploring the life cycle of sunflowers with these little learners over the past few months!  Some of the seeds we colelcted will go home with the students to plant in their own gardens; others will go to re-stock the OISE Seed Library.


September 18, 2015

Harvesting Seeds and Ideas at the OISE Lab School

One of my favourit parts of working with the OISE Community Learning Garden is how much of the community I get to share joys from the garden with. Recently I was invited into the Grade One class at the Jackman Institute of Child Study, known affectionately as the Lab School. Since I was coming to the students instead of the students coming to the garden, I had made up a brightly painted poster display featuring photos of the gardens.  The reading room had an impressive collection of books on gardening, plants, nature and the environment that had been thoughtfully curated by their lovely teacher, whose warm and welcoming classroom was clearly a reflection of her.

I was nervous the students may have already read the book I brought to do a read-aloud with them – If You Hold a Seed, by Canadian author Elly MacKay – but luckily they hadn’t heard it before. I was blown away by the magnificent amount of knowledge and passion the grade ones had for gardening. They knew the names of a lot of the plants on the poster board, and were so eager to tell me about what they had planted on their own. The students were fascinated by a 3D model of the life cycle of a bean, from seed to sprout, that I had borrowed from the OISE Manipulatives Library. We also had an amazing discussion sparked by their curious questions and some creative ideas, like what would happen if we planted a marker cap.

The students jumped right into harvesting seeds from sunflower heads and milkweeds. The room was full of energy as students collaborated to get the seeds out, using some ingenious methods that were as fun to do as they were effective! The students saved the seeds in little envelopes, carefully labeled them on their own, and kindly donated many seeds to replenish the OISE Seed Library. Afterwards, it was rewarding to hear valuable feedback from the students about the activity, which included “I liked hearing the story of fall and learning about seeds. I liked looking at the pictures in the book”, “I liked when we looked for seeds and I liked when you read us the story about seeds”, “I liked cracking open the seeds from the dead flowers” and “I liked learning about seeds saving”. I had such an amazing time with the grade ones and want to say thank you to all of them and their teacher for letting me join them in a great afternoon of garden fun!


August 21, 2015

All Hail Kale!

Kale Chips to Satisfy Your Taste Buds and Your Wallet

Kale has become an especially popular player in the health food industry in the past few years, but this is one trend that’s worth the hype. A cruciferous vegetable related to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, kale has earned its superfood status for being one of the most nutritionally dense foods in the world. A cup of kale weighs in at 33 calories and contains 3 grams of protein, surpasses all your Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for vitamins A, C and K and contains minerals such as iron, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and copper. Kale is armed with antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and flavonoids called quercetin and kaempferol. These antioxidants fight oxidative damage, which is believed to contribute to diseases and negative effects of ageing.  It’s also good for your eyesight, can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol and contains cancer-fighting substances.

Thankfully there’s a tasty way to enjoy kale besides making a salad – kale chips! Crispy, salty and healthier than potato chips, kale chips are delicious but can be expensive if you buy them from a store (upwards of $7 for a teeny portion). Luckily, making them on your own is both easy and cheap!

What You’ll Need: a bundle of kale (washed), a recyclable bag or reusable container, a baking tray, olive oil and sea salt. Working one leaf at a time rip off the tips from the “spine” of the kale (the hard line in the middle of each leaf) to create little bite-sited pieces. Collect the pieces in a container with a lid that you can wash, like Tupperware, or throw into a plastic grocery bag if you have one lying around. Add a splash (about a table spoon) of olive oil to the kale pieces in the bag. Hold or tie the bag closed and shake, shake, shake until all the kale pieces are evenly coated.  Spread the olive oil-coated kale pieces evenly across a baking tray. Don’t overcrowd the tray! Put the tray in the oven at 425 degrees and keep an eye on them – the pieces on the edges of the tray will cook faster than the pieces in the middle. After 3-5 minutes, pull out the tray and check the colour and texture: the kale have browned into a darker green and be crispy to touch. If not all the pieces are ready, remove the ones that are cooked, and put the tray back in the oven to bake for a few more minutes. Once done, put all the kale into a bowl, and season with sea salt to taste. Your kale chips are ready and you’ll never have to spend an astronomical amount of money on a single snack bag again!



August 14, 2015

Not Your Average Cup o’ Joe

As a grad student, I’m constantly living off of coffee and green tea. I consider myself something of caffeinate connoisseur, so imagine my surprise this past weekend when I first learned about the existence of chicory coffee. The person who opened my eyes to this strong tasting alternative to regular coffee was none other than my boyfriend’s grandmother (talk about me being seriously late to the party on this one). Baba, as she’s affectionately known, is as fantastic of a seasoned gardener as she is a jovial, generous host, always sending me home piled high with boxes of homemade honey cakes. It was when I was telling her about all the different things growing in the OISE Learning Garden, including chicory, that she told me about chicory coffee.

Chicory coffee started in Europe as an alternative to coffee by roasting root chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) then grinding it and boiling it with water. It can also be added to regular filtered coffee to give it a robust taste. Chicory coffee was popular during times of economic downturn, most notably World War II and the Great Depression. It is still a well-known specialty of New Orleans.

The chicory growing in the Equity and Inclusivity garden is a different type, one specifically known as Chicory Red Dandelion (Cichorium intybus), or Italian Dandelions as they are native to the Mediterranean, and despite the name, they aren’t dandelions at all. It is said that this confusion stems from a mistranslation due to their similarities in appearance to actual dandelions. However, chicory is part of the endive family and has a complex, rich flavour that is both sweet and bitter. Chicory is so versatile. Belgian brewers have added it to blonde beers to create wheat beers, but it also provides a coffee flavour to stouts. It can be eaten as a part of a salad, a garnish for a sandwich, added to soups or pasta, or braised and served on its own as a side dish.  Health-wise, chicory is used as in German folk medicine an all-purpose treatment, especially for cuts, bruises and even gallstones. Chicory also contains inulin which is used in commercial food products as a sweetener or added to yogurts as a prebiotic as it can help with weight loss and general well being. So, while I’ll have to wait to find chicory root to be able to make my own coffee, there are still a ton of great uses in the mean time!



August 7, 2015

A Burst of Lemony Freshness

What I love about the garden is how much of a sensory experience it is to take in. First of all, it’s undoubtedly a sight to behold. You can’t miss these natural mini masterpieces along Bloor – just check out Fritz below, showcasing the spectacle of bright saffron-shaded Sunflowers and pops of purple blossoming Showy Tick Trefoil. But seeing is just one way of experiencing the garden. The testament to this sentiment is the beeline visitors make to less flashy plants like Lemon Balm. While Lemon Balm may not have the same visual exhibitionist streak like showy tick trefoil has, it definitely delivers on delighting your olfactory senses. Garden visitors walk by, stop and sniff the air, searching for this delectable source of citrus. I’m always happy to point them in the fragrant direction of the lush green Lemon Balm, pictured below. It is a pleasure to watch people excitedly rub an emerald-hued leaf between their thumb and forefinger, feeling the soft texture and breathing in the sumptuous scent of lemony goodness. Scent has that powerful ability to charge us with our memories, and I love that lemon balm lets us swim in our nostalgia for everything from fresh laundry to tangy and fluffy lemon meringue pies, and, as one patron described it, “a refreshing glass of lemonade on a hot day”. Next time you’re around Bloor St., take your own trip down memory lane and experience the healing nature of Lemon Balm for yourself.

dog in garden  lemon balm


July 31, 2015

The Garden 'Beets' the Heat!

It has been a pleasure to watch the quick and bountiful growth of the plants in the Equity and Inclusive Education gardens on the left and right-hand sides of OISE’s main entrance. These gardens symbolize OISE’s celebration of diversity and value of equity, social justice and inclusivity within education. As such, the vastly diverse types of vegetation in these specific gardens have been handpicked to represent plant life all over the globe.

You can definitely view the wide-ranging assortment of plants in these gardens from the moment your eyes land on the sign emblazoned with ENTRANCE. The Lavender Hyssop grows so tall so fast, hiding the entrance sign - I have to trim often – in great contrast to the proliferation of shorter plants that have sprouted up beneath and around the very same sign, cushioning it like a bed of green. These plants may be short but they certainly are sturdy. The chicory and beets were some of the first plants to appear and they have tirelessly continued to develop despite the extreme weather fluctuations of this season. I’m especially impressed with the beets. These hardy plants survived June’s cloudy, frequent downpours and now even under the extreme heat of July, they have managed to thrive, growing bulbs that are simply too big for the soil to contain!

entrance  beets

July 25, 2015

Digging with the Daycare

An Artsy, Earth-friendly, Messy Event with the OISE Early Learning Centre

As part of the ESE team’s mandate, we are committed to sharing everything we’ve learned through the gardens with all our community, and that definitely includes the curious young minds that are sprouting inside the OISE Early Learning Centre!

After potting their own sunflowers during the garden’s initial planting day this past May, our littlest green thumbs from the daycare were back in action again today.  The children listened to a read-aloud about the very first stages of a plant’s life in A Seed Grows by Pamela Hickman. Then the kids headed out into the sunshine to don mini gloves – still comically large for their little hands – and plant sweetgrass and parsley seeds from the OISE Seed Garden in their very own teeny terracotta pots. The kids filled the pots with all the dirt they could and gave their new plant a healthy drink of water. They also used paints to decorate and personalize the outside of their plant pots – and some daring little artists even tried to paint the inside of their pots – oops! When we were all cleaned up, we enjoyed reading Scaredy Squirrel by Mélanie Watt and brainstormed about all the kinds of creatures that live in and visit the garden. The kids had some great ideas and filled the pages of their DIY pocket-sized paper sketchbooks with imaginings of ladybugs, bumble bees, caterpillars, and, of course, squirrels.

Today was an amazing day to be outside and we had a fantastic celebration of Environmental and Sustainability Education and the OISE Community Learning Garden. Thank you so much to the incredibly accommodating staff at the Early Learning Centre who didn’t mind us getting just a little bit messy, and thanks to Kids Can Press for providing us with some delightful Scaredy Squirrel tote bags filled with all sorts of goodies for the kids! Finally, I want to say thank you to the kids themselves for their infectiously positive attitudes and setting an example for all us adults that growing up shouldn’t mean we grow out of our innate love of getting our hands dirty and having some fun in the sun.

daycare 1  daycare 2

July 17, 2015

Bee Balm is Abuzz!

While watering the gardens I’m never less than amazed by the brilliant colours that seem to just spring up almost overnight. An intricate wildflower that has recently set the  ESE garden ablaze with complex textures and pops of purple is Bee Balm. While “Monarda fistulosa” is this purple-hued Bee Balm’s official botanical nomenclature, Bee Balm is also commonly referred to as wild bergamot, horsemint and Oswego tea. It is named for its special quality of being highly attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds and, of course, bumblebees. All these creatures use the tubular petals on its flower head as siphons to sip the nectar from inside the plant.

Bee Balm has been used historically by Indigenous groups for a myriad of reasons, such as treating fevers, stopping bleeding, getting rid of nausea and curing insomnia. It is a natural source of thymol, an antiseptic that is the main ingredient in modern day mouthwash, and are great for helping with gingivitis and treating skin infections. In the culinary world, fresh Bee Balm flowers are fantastic in adding a kick to salads and pair well with pork and chicken, as well as tomato dishes. While scarlet-coloured Bee Balm (“monarda didyma”) has a citrus scent similar to the bergamot orange, this purple kind in the garden gives off a tingling minty aroma. Like cedar, either type can make for an excellent cup of herbal tea. Though, truth be told, I find these flowers way too incredible-looking to pick, so next time you’re around the garden be sure to catch a glimpse before they’re gone!

BB 2015

July 10, 2015

Making Cedar Tea

I’m working as a senior instructor with the TDSB’s inaugural First Nations, Métis and Inuit Summer Camp Experience for a few weeks. One of the best parts about this camp is the fantastic people I’ve gotten to meet who have taught me so much about natural remedies and recipes using plants found in your backyard (or local park), a.k.a “nature’s supermarket”.  Connected to the cedar tree in the OISE Learning Garden, one recipe that has been kindly been shared with me is how to make Cedar Tea. As cedar is an antioxidant, antiseptic, rich in Vitamin C and has diuretic properties, this tea is amazing at clearing up colds and stuffy sinuses and clearing out your body of any toxins. It definitely packs a punch!

Step 1: Start by gathering about two cups of fresh cedar. We do have some cedar growing in the Aboriginal Education garden but we’d love it if we could keep that cedar tree full and beautiful for everyone to enjoy. Instead, try checking out Glen Cedar Park, Rouge Park’s Cedar Trail, or venture into your local forest to find some cedar to snip and take home.

Step 2: Fill a small pot with four cups of water and bring to a boil; Add your two cups of cedar to the boiling water

Step 3: Steep for 10-20 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the water has turned much darker in colour.  Strain the water into a tea pot and pour into cups. Your tea is ready to drink! A handy tip - drink just once a week as cedar tea is quite potent.

Enjoy your detoxifying cedar tea!

ab ed garden

July 3, 2015

New Signs Growing...

If you stop by the gardens this week,you'll notice something new has popped up in each planter: a brand new sign! These signs are here to clearly label each garden with its official name. This is meant to take the guesswork out of trying to figure out which one is which - though I know most of you seasoned green thumbs are good at eyeballing plants and have been able to match the names from our website to what's growing. 

Now you can know for sure that those are the Equity and Inclusivity Gardens lining the entrance to OISE welcoming you into the building, and that one at the very end embodying out-of-the-box thinking with its uncontainable growth is definitely the Creativity in Education Garden. 

While we are hoping for a permanent set of signs for the future, these brand new beauties are just what the garden needs right now, serving their purpose as a (if you'll pardon the pun!) sign of stability and to pave the way for a new chapter in the garden's budding story so far.


June 25, 2015

Sunflowers are Blooming!


The unpredictability of Toronto weather so far this June may be confusing to me (do I need sunglasses or an umbrella today?!), but the garden is thriving in this mix of rain and sun! Our plants have grown deep roots (especially the Sweet Grass in the Aboriginal Education Garden), sturdy stems, and this past week it’s been beautiful to see so many of our garden plots blossoming with bursts of new colours.

Being one of my favourite flowers, it’s been especially wild to see the growth spurt of our sunflowers in the Environmental and Sustainability Education Garden. Just four weeks ago, we had the littlest green thumbs from the OISE daycare dig up and pot some budding sunflowers to take home. Back then, the petite plants were the perfect size for the students to hold in their pint-sized palms. Now, the very first sunflower has transformed from itty-bitty wisps of green into a strong stalk standing tall and proud, with cheerful petals arranged like a shining crown atop its vibrant head. It’s a majestic sight to see this sunflower beckoning people passing by to stop on the street, take a moment to observe, and then return to their day with a little smile now playing on their lips. I can’t wait for the rest of the sunflowers to bloom and stand tall as a community symbol for optimism and hope.

sunflower 2015

June 15, 2015

A Gift for the Aboriginal Education Garden


Until yesterday, the Aboriginal Education Garden was home to just three of the four sacred medicines: Sage, Sweet grass and Cedar.  We knew we were missing another sacred medicine, tobacco, as part of our Community Learning Garden, but we have had a difficult time locating an appropriate varietal of tobacco in past years.  So we are now pleased to announce the arrival of tobbaco this week, made possible by a generous and thoughtful donation by Kristy Bard, a staff member at the dept. of Anthropology (and a helper at the garden planting last month.) Kristy noticed the garden was missing this significant plant, and followed through to make sure the garden would be fully representative of each sacred medicine. 

This annual plant plays an important role in many Indigenous traditions, most notably as a special way of showing appreciation to the Earth by giving thanks for what the Earth provides us. It is also burned so the smoke can be used for smudging, as a way to cleanse negative energies from a sacred space and open the soul before a ceremony. While the two tobacco plants are newly planted, they already look right at home. We are honoured to have such strong support for this project that makes such meaningful contributions to the garden possible.

tobacco 2015


June 8, 2015

Putting the 'our' in Labour of Love: Why this is our community learning garden


The first time I ever learned about the OISE Community Learning Garden it was winter and the garden was, in fact, asleep. Buried under the heavy snow, it was hard to imagine what each garden would become once warmer weather woke it back up. There are many reasons why I wanted to take care of the garden this summer: my love for planting beautiful things, having fun getting messy in the dirt, and maybe (just maybe!) this would be the summer I actually managed to get a tan. But above all, what drew me to this project originally was the emphasis on this garden as belonging to the community.

From what I’ve experienced so far, I wholeheartedly can attest to the fact that this garden is first and foremost a shared venture in taking back green spaces in Toronto. It is definitely a – pardon the pun – grassroots adventure creating and cultivating a mini oasis on Bloor St. From the very beginning this project has been a labour of love, and seeing what it’s become already, it’s amazing that the garden is something that everyone loves to take pride in. People passing by of all ages stop by and introduce themselves, taking a minute to marvel at the garden, ask some questions, play with Fritz, and express a genuine appreciation for how gorgeous the street looks brimming with life and colour (see below). Through my tan is still a long ways away, the most rewarding part of my work has been these interactions with all of you. Sharing this common appreciation gives strangers names while giving faces smiles. Not bad for a few plants and some dirt! The support for this project has already been incredible. Thank you for your enthusiasm for ESE and jumping right in to embrace our collaborative community.

strawberry 1  strawberries 2

Strawberries starting to ripen in the Creativity in Education Garden

June 2, 2015

Dig into Environmental Sustainability this Summer

After a beautiful day spent in the sunshine revitalizing the garden with this season’s newest plants, I am so excited to be a member of the Environmental Sustainability Education (ESE) team through my involvement tending to the OISE Learning Garden this summer!

I am taking over this role from graduating B.Ed student, Jamie, who showed me the lay of the land during our first session last week. I am grateful to Jamie for doing a fantastic job researching and selecting what new additions we should plant this year, and waking up the garden for Spring before going off on her next adventure. I very much appreciate her Garden 101 Pro Tips, especially her advice to bring a windbreaker: after the incredibly hot day we had planting in late May, this slight chill in the air we’ve had lately, cold water, and a shady building overhang make June in Toronto basically an arctic tundra. It is June, right?

Luckily, our plants are proving to be as mighty as they are diverse. Just as a refresher, the OISE Learning Garden consists of six giant concrete planters adding some pizzazz to the front of the building along Bloor Street West – you can’t miss them! They are all named and created to honour a foundational concept of education at OISE. Each garden contains plants selected to meaningfully reflect its core concept through a vivid visual representation. Basically, this means we have a lot of great and gorgeous (or soon-to-be gorgeous – like learning, we’re constantly evolving) wildlife growing right in the heart of the city.

As a nature lover, advocate for FNMI accessible education and learning without barriers, and current Master of Teaching student myself, I am very happy to be able to share all our updates with you about the OISE Learning Garden. I’ll be bringing you information on all our amazing events happening this summer, ESE and garden-related happenings in the local urban wilderness we call the city of Toronto, before-and-in-progress photos of our garden as it grows, and stories and tips to inspire you to get growing and naturally glowing on your own. Oh, and there may be some adorable pictures of my ridiculously cute dog, Snickelfritz, who will be helping me tend to the gardens.

So please stop by and say hello to me and my fluffy supervisor (Fritz, for short) and stay tuned for more posts this summer!

Alysse and Fritz

garden team  dog

(L) Intern Jamie Wei, faculty Hilary Inwood and LG Summer Coordinator Alysse Kennedy

(R) Honourary OISE student (and LG Assistant) Fritz on guard in the garden

May 26, 2015

Planting Heaven!


We spent a beautiful sunny spring day in the garden this week hosting our annual planting day - a huge thanks to all who joined us!  New and experienced 'garden friends came to help, enjoying an opportunity to get their hands in the soil to dig in new plants and remove the extras.  We were able to find new homes for the multitude of sunflower sprouts and new lavender hyssop plants that have rooted - we love the idea that our garden is now spreading over the GTA!  We really enjoyed having the young gardeners from the OISE daycare kickstart the day, and a number of students and staff from other parts of the university come to join us for the first time. A special thanks to OISE students Jamie Wei and Alysse Kennedy for taking leadership on this event - it was a wonderful success!

Jamie Wei helps student plant   Helpers at teh OISE spring planting day



May 4, 2015

Stepping into May: Everfruiting Strawberries

Everfruiting Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassais a perennial plant native to the Americas. Strawberries are a popular choice for home gardens as they produce fruits very quickly and require relatively less space. They have short stems and leaves that grow in threes. The flowers, small and white with a yellow center, usually appear early spring before they ripen to become strawberries in late spring to early summer. The dainty flowers attract pollinating bees--which produces larger and better shaped fruit. Strawberries are often eaten as a fresh fruit or are processed into other food-products including jams, and a variety of baked goods and sweets.


Above: Everfruiting Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa

May 1, 2015

Spring Spotlight: Wild Chives and Bleeding Heart

Wild Chives (Allium cernuumis a perennial plant native to North America. Flowers usually appear in July to August but the flowering stems are already quite noticeable (purple bulbs). Since its flowers are attractive to bees, Wild Chives are an important addition to gardens in need of pollination. Wild Chives are edible and have a strong onion flavour, therefore commonly found in grocery stores and home gardens. 

Wild Chives are also used as an insect repellent in plant cultivation due to the scent of the leaves. Since the Wild Chive is a relative of the garlic, it could also be used medicinally to treat fungal infections and as a benefit to the ciculatory system.

1 1

Above: Wild Chives (Allium cernuum) and Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia)

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximiais a perennial plant native to the Appalachian Mountains in North America. It is a flowering plant with fern-like leaves and flowers oddly shaped like hanging hearts. The flowers appear early spring and continue to bloom into the fall. Flowers are pink in boom and are usually in tight clusters at the top of a leafless stem. Wild Bleeding hearts prefer shade but are also tolerant of moderate sunlight. This plant is attractive to both birds and bees (and humans!), drawing in pollinators essential to every garden.


Here's an update of the emerging plants in the other gardens:



April 27, 2015

Springtime Germination  

Hi Everyone! As the new intern, I will be providing the Down & Dirty updates for the next little while. This is my first time tending OISE's learning garden and there's a lot for me to learn so please bear with me. Despite the chilly start, we're already noticing some growth in the learning garden.

In the Aboriginal Education Garden, the Sweet Grass is taking over and surrounding the Eastern White Cedar.
The wild chives and everfruiting strawerries are also doing well in the Creativity Education garden.
A few other plants are also starting to germinate in the Holistic Education Garden and the Equity & Inclusive Education Garden.
We're anticipating much more growth in the next week with the warmer weather and more frequent watering. 
Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.
~Quoted by Lewis Grizzard

January 20, 2015

Pale Purple Coneflowers  



The pale purple coneflowers, Echinacea pallida, are located in the Creativity in Education garden.  This colourful and unique flower serves as a reminder that our surrounding environment can work to inspire us creatively.  A member of the sunflower family, this flower blooms throughout June-September. 

The coneflower is one of the most widely used plants in the herbal medicine market in North America and Europe.  Most commonly, it is used to treat the common cold as it works to stimulate the immune system.  Also, it is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens due to its distinctive and striking appearance (orange-black tubular disc and pinkish-purple dropping petals).  Although the stem of the coneflower is slender, it is also very strong.  The stem, which grows up to a meter in length, must hold but the weight of flower including a walnut sized tublur disk.

In full bloom, the flower emanates a honey-like fragrance which attracts bees, butterflies and other insects.  Hummingbirds, gold finches and other birds are also attracted by the fragrance and visit this flower frequently.        

November 28, 2014

Putting the Garden to Sleep for Winter   


The first frost came rather late this year, but in late November the garden was put to bed for the winter.  Most of the plants were taken out along with some debris.  However, there are a select few that can stay in the garden throughout the snowy months, like the Eastern White Cedar in the Aboriginal Education Garden. 

cedar tree

Seeds from a few of the plants, including the sunflowers were saved for the OISE Seed Library.  Learn more about the seed library here:


October 24, 2014

Fall Gardening  


Even though we’re heading into the last week of October, the learning garden is still looking great!  This may be due to the rain that we've been getting recently and the warm fall days.  We are still waiting for the first frost to hit before we begin preparing the garden for Winter.

creativity-1   ag-1

There were a lot of ladybugs in the gardens in the garden past week.  Where were they when we needed them to take care of the aphids?!


Friday September 26, 2014

Learning Garden Open House


This past Friday was the OISE Learning Garden Open House!  The weather cooperated and provided us with a beautiful day, so lots of OISE students, staff from the University of Toronto, as well as the general public were in attendance.  Carrot cake was served, along with beet chips and local apples, and lots of questions asked about the garden and its themes.  Hilary gave a tour of each of the 5 themed gardens, and students in attendance made great conenctions to what they were learning at OISE and what they expect to see in the schools. Congrats to the ESE support team (Helen, Arshi, & Velta) for a great event, and thanks to all those who were in attendance!

touring the LG

Friday September 12, 2014

Stopping to smell the flowers

As the new work-study student who is the learning garden assistant for the year, I’ve been watering the garden and getting everything prepped for the upcoming Learning Garden Open House on Sept. 26 (12-1).  I have really enjoyed learning about each flower and plant that are in the gardens and why they were so carefully chosen in accordance with each garden’s theme.  My personal favourite garden is the Environmental & Sustainability Education Garden; the plants in this garden require little water, which promotes sustainable resource use and contributes to a healthy environment.  As an added bonus, one of the flowers in this garden is my favourite ... sunflowers!  While watering the sunflowers, I was fascinated watching the bees flying in to collect pollen.  I became aware of the important role that the garden plays in supporting these creatures.  It is so easy to take one’s surroundings for granted and feel disconnected from nature in a big city such as Toronto.  The community garden serves as a reminder that we should stop and appreciate the beauty of our surrounding environment and the life that lies within it.         


Friday August 29, 2014

Something loves our kale…

Just like the challenges we had with our milkweed earlier this summer, we have another infestation on our kale.  We planted Red River Kale from the wonderful nursery at Evergreen, and while we were able to harvest leaves earlier in the summer without any worry to share with staff and students, something is beating us to it this week!  The leaves are covered with hundreds of small white bugs – looks like we have whiteflies, a type of aphid common to cabbage-type plants.  (Maybe they are coming back to school with the students?!)  As it’s late in the season we may just take out the plants (they are annuals), but next year will try treating these with a dishsoap and water solution, which is non-toxic.


Friday August 15, 2014

India comes to the Garden!

Excitement flourished on Bloor St West this week as dozens of teachers from the Punjab visited the garden as part of a day-long workshop on community-based education.  Working with OISE science educator Jane Forbes, they participated in a treasure hunt as they learned about the value of using learning gardens with children.  In return they shared the importance of environmental education in their own schools, noting that most schools have an eco-club to help do this work with children.

punjab teachers

Wed. August 6, 2014

Growth and Death in the Garden

We see so much beauty in this garden – each day there is new growth and a new flower blooming.  But with growth comes death, which was all too apparent this week.  As part of one of the watering sessions, we found this dead rat in the garden – not sure how he got there!  There is a mulberry tree that has had a lot of fruit that overhangs the Equity and Inclusion Garden, and we wonder if he fell from one of its branches.  It’s incredible how fast he started to return to the earth, a reminder of the abundance of insect and microbial life that exist in these small garden plots that can’t be seen with the naked eye.  All part of the cycle of life in the garden…


Tuesday July 29, 2014

Who's Eating our Milkweed?


We have so far begun to encounter some new and different challenges compared with last year. We planted milkweed from seed inside in the late winter and transferred much of it successfully to two of the garden spaces, Creativity and Aboriginal. These plants are known to be helpers to our important pollinators and local beauties, the Monarch butterflies, by providing the unique place for them to lay eggs and food for their caterpillars. See for more information on Monarchs and milkweed. While many of our milkweed are growing well, they have also picked up a different kind of insect – the Oleander aphid or Aphis nerii. These persistent and pervasive pests are known to attack milkweed, as other aphids do to other plant species, and suck them dry. Our milkweed plants are carrying on despite a bit of an infestation. The aphids can be controlled by a good spray of water, or by ladybugs who love to munch on them. However, ladybugs are non-discriminate between the aphids and butterfly eggs and are happy to eat both, so best to start with water treatment. You can read more about Oleander aphids and milkweed here:

Tuesday July 15, 2014

Dancing with the Dogwood

As this is our second year in the OISE Learning Gardens, we have been lucky to watch many of the plants that went in new last year, as seeds or seedlings, grow again this year. This is happening for two reasons. First of all, many of the plants we had selected for our theme-based gardens are perennials. They were selected for this reason, along with their hardiness for full sun, and also for being indigenous to the southern Ontario region. The second reason many of our plants are returning is the abundance of healthy seeds that fell from the plants last year that overwintered and took root once spring returned. We saw this from the sunflowers, the sage and the lavender hyssop, among others.  It is exciting to watch a new year of growth – the intermingling of “old” with new, and seeing how, once again, the best laid plans for our very orderly garden (see the maps for each garden) are at nature’s mercy and desire. For example, the Virgin’s bower vine, which was somewhat shy and tentative last year, came back in full force and is having quite a tango with the other members of the Creativity garden, especially the Dogwood.


Tuesday July 1, 2014

Bleeding Hearts take your breath away...

bleeding hearts

Another highlight of the garden has been the growth of the wild Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra eximia, which are planted in the Creativity in Education Garden.  This plant is quite small in our garden plots but has the capacity to grow much larger. The wonder of them is their interesting bloom, which is a red to deep pink shape very similar to a cartoon heart-shaped cushion with wing-like structures on the bottom, growing in bunches along branch-like stems. These tiny sculptures of nature are commonly found in rocky areas, and they are very hardy. Because they are a new perennial addition to our gardens, we can look forward to them growing back next year. Because they prefer the shade, they have been hiding under the heavily growing Dogwood bush in the garden, where they continue to bloom. You can read more about these and other Bleeding Heart species at

Tuesday June 24, 2014

Edible Beauty Blooms in the Garden


There is  is an early blooming perennial, the Wild Chives, Allium cernuum, in this garden. This were grown from seed last year and survived the winter well. They were the earliest bloomer in our gardens, with full purple cone that has the appearance  of a pompom on a green stick. This common plant was selected because are edible and have been used for centuries as a way to spice up food, just as creativity spices up learning experiences! Feel free to have a nibble as you wander past!

Tuesday June 10, 2014 

Going up in Smoke!


Praire Smoke

Part of the wonder of the garden is how the different plants come into bloom at different times. It was wonderful to catch the Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum, in full bloom, early in the growing season. They are planted in the Environmental and Sustainability Education Garden. In May, when many of the other plants were just getting settled in and taking root, the Prairie Smoke had regrown from last year’s planting, and was in full, beautiful bloom. We had missed its bloom last summer – so it was a surprise to see the gorgeous, feathery, threadlike tendrils of pink and purple bursting from the small plants. These are the seed heads. It really made it clear why the name includes “smoke” as the wisps from a distance take on that appearance. Another common names for it are old man’s whiskers. These plants attract birds and butterflies as well as humans, and are known to be hardy and low maintenance, an important aspect of sustainability.


Sacred tobacco seedlingTuesday, May 27, 2014

The Full Circle Search for Sacred Tobacco

Everything ends up at the beginning!



"Thunder tobacco", a sacred variety traditionally used in ceremonies.

(See below)

Last year, our Aboriginal Education Garden grew the tobacco variety Nicotiana, a commercial tobacco. We saved the tobacco harvest for elders' use in smudging the OISE building, and also as gifts for visiting Indigenous ESE speakers. OISE's Learning Gardens are a learning experience for all of us -- including us here at the ESE! This year, we learned that Nicotiana is not traditionally used in ceremonies. Thus began what we like to call:

The full circle search for sacred tobacco!

After much research and many phone calls, we thought Lobelia inflata, an uncommon difficult-to-source tobacco variety, was the traditional, sacred tobacco we sought. For the past six weeks, you may have seen Lobelia inflata seedlings growing on the 10th floor, stadium-side! This is what they look like (left: one of our seedlings, showing off the purple underleaf; right: what Lobelia inflata looks like when flowering):

Lobelia inflata seedlingLobelia inflata flowering google images

However, as our green (in more than one way!) intern, Amanda Johnson, was about to find out: Lobelia inflata was not the end of our search! The ESE was instructed to look for "sacred seed". Amanda set out, determined to locate sacred seed... no matter the cost to sleep nor sanity! (Luckily, there wasn't much debt to either, as you'll soon see.)

At first, she expected seed in itself would be sufficient -- but some seed et voila! But did you know that tobacco sproutlings should be transplanted up to a full six weeks after seeding?! Those of you completing your BEd internship know that a six week project definitely isn't going to work well if you're already two weeks in...! And did you also know that you actually cannot buy sacred seed? Shockingly, the internet does not provide everything in life...

Luckily, our intern Amanda had a friend who often grew sacred and/or native Ontario plant species, and this friend was able to provide the ESE with a shovel-full (literally!) of ever-so-small sacred "Thunder tobacco" sprouts (see the top photo). It was from Julia Hitchcock that we learned sacred tobacco cannot be bought nor sold -- only given. In gratitude to Julia and her kind gift of tobacco, the ESE made a donation to Children's Lands Canada, "an organization rooted in native ceremony which connects children to the land".

The funny thing, though, is that everything in life comes full circle...

Amanda was also in contact with John Doran from Deepening Knowledge at OISE. John provided us with enough sacred tobacco seed for a late harvest planting as well as a Spring 2015 planting (all from just one seed pod!). Thank you very much to John, who was also instrumental in ensuring we planted and cared for the sacred tobacco seed respectfully.


Come out for yourself and see the Thunder tobacco thrive! It's growing on the right side of the Aboriginal Education Garden.

Stay Down & Dirty!

The Learning Garden Team

Showy Tick TrefoilMonday, May 12, 2014

Welcome to Down & Dirty!

The place for gritty updates on everything in the Learning Gardens at OISE.



Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense) is wistfully watching the football game outside, waiting for the day when it can cheer on its team in the open air -- lucky for it, and all our sprouting seedlings, that day is soon!


Wednesday, May 28th

11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

(Rain date Thursday, May 29th)

OISE Community Learning Garden Planting Day!

Everyone is welcome to come out to the front of 252 Bloor St. W.,
and help the ESE staff and volunteers to beautify the front face of OISE.
Help us bring green into the city!


Have you explored OISE's Learning Gardens lately?

Things are popping and hopping out of the soil on Bloor Street! Here are recent photos of the Learning Garden (in order from left to right, facing the OISE building) with our currently sprouting all-star perennials and self-seeders - click on the garden titles to visit webpages specific to each!

Equity GardenInclusive Education Garden

Equity and Inclusive Education Garden

The Equity and Inclusive Education Garden encompasses the first two spaces in the Learning Gardens. The left photo above is the first garden (on the left of OISE's entrance), where Swamp Roses are going strong behind the OISE sign! If you look closely, you'll see Meadowsweet leafing once more in the back, behind the Swamp Roses.

The right photo is the second of the Equity and Inclusive Education Gardens, located to the right of the OISE entrance. Hyssop (green leaves) and Bearberry (crawling red leaves) are rearing their heads in front of last year's Red-root amaranth stalks.


Aboriginal Education Garden

Aboriginal Education Garden

The most eye-catching garden as-of-yet, the Aboriginal Education Garden is full to the brim with self-sown sweet grass! Considered sweet for the smell but not for the taste (stick your nose in and inhale; but please don't eat). White cedar is hiding behind the willow Eco-art installation.  If you visit the garden right now, you can find Wild Columbine coming back, within the front of that mass of sweet grass.


ESE Garden

Environmental & Sustainability Education Garden

Two beautiful Eco-art willow sculptures adorn our ESE Garden, amongst which you'll see many green tendrils: Prairie Smoke (which has begun to flower in the time between the above photo and this post!) are the jagged-edged leaves along the sides, and there are countless self-sown sunflowers.


Holistic Education Garden

Holistic Education Garden

The biggest splash of green in the Holistic Education Garden are bluebells (bottom right corner). Chokeberry stands tall at the back of the planter, right behind the Eco-art willow sculpture.


Creativity in Education Garden

Creativity in Education Garden

In the far-right planter, the Creativity in Education Garden, it's hard to miss the two bunches of already-budding chives. This is one plant we encourage you to munch on - they'll spice up your day! However, be sure not to enjoy them right before an important meeting (you've been warned)...

Beautiful dogwoods are vibrant bookends to the intricate Eco-art willow sculpture.

So, come on out on May 28th and get your hands (and more?) dirty at the ESE's Learning Garden Planting Day! Or, take a moment during your morning commute to stop and smell the earth, and marvel in the changes that just a day can make in the life of a garden - and in the life of each of us.

Until next time - keep Down & Dirty!

The Learning Garden Team

Garden Planting Party
May 29, 2017

Plant of the Week: Columbine (aquilegia canadensis)
Garden: Indigenous Education

This week, a large group of MT students and faculty met at the garden to prepare it for the spring. Spring-time garden main